African elephants continue to face serious threats to their survival



Date Published

JOHANNESBURG South Africa (Xinhua) — Many populations of African elephants continued to face serious threats to their survival in 2015 from the illegal trade in ivory and unacceptably high levels of poaching, according two new reports released here.

The reports are to be presented to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17), which is scheduled for September in Johannesburg.

The reports show that elephants are particularly vulnerable in Central and West Africa, where high levels of illegal killing continue.

Two CITES monitoring programs—the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) — indicate that the sharp upward trends in poaching, which started in 2006, have started to level off, with continental levels of illegal killing of elephants stabilizing or slightly decreasing.

However, the levels of poaching remain far too high to allow elephant populations to recover, with some populations facing risk of local extinction, the reports said.

The ETIS report shows that in 2012 and 2013, levels of illegal ivory trade reached their highest levels since CITES agreed to ban the commercial trade in (raw) ivory in 1989.

The MIKE figures show that the steady increase in levels of illegal killing of elephants since 2006, which peaked in 2011, has been halted and stabilized but that levels remain unacceptably high overall.

It is estimated that the number of elephants illegally killed annually in Africa between 2010 and 2015 ran into the tens of thousands.

Although overall trends are moving in the right direction, elephant poaching in 2015 remains a cause for serious concern, the MIKE report says.

Figures show that Southern Africa is the only sub-region that has not seen illegal killings exceed natural deaths since MIKE monitoring began in the early 2000s.

However, poaching levels remain high in some Southern African sites, such as Niassa Reserve in Mozambique.

Positive news comes from East Africa, where estimated poaching levels declined in 2015 for the fourth consecutive year. Yet the situation is also mixed, with increases in poaching evident in parts of Tanzania.

The most serious levels of poaching were again recorded in Central and West Africa, where illegal killings continue to far exceed natural deaths, according to the MIKE report.


International group of researchers call for action to protect big animals

SAN FRANCISCO United States (Xinhua) — An international group of 43 researchers has called for action to protect iconic wild animals such as rhinos and tigers, so as to prevent the loss of benefits these big animals offer humans.

The researchers, including zoologists, ecologists and conservation scientists, have a 13-point declaration published on Wednesday in the journal BioScience, emphasizing the need to acknowledge threats, halt harmful practices, commit to conservation and recognize a moral obligation to protect the planet’s large animals.

“Working with this group of colleagues to articulate the emergency of the issue and to develop a declaration was a logical step to try to promote awareness and action on the part of society at large,” said Rodolfo Dirzo, a member of the group and the Bing Professor in Environmental Science at Stanford University in northern California on the U.S. west coast.

Also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Dirzo’s previous research has shown how critical large animals are in regulating disease risks for humans, preventing wildfires and spreading plant seeds, said a news release from Stanford.

About 60 percent of the world’s largest animals are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation.

Among the most serious threats are the expansion of livestock and crop operations, illegal hunting, deforestation and human population growth.

Large animals are extremely vulnerable to these threats in large part because they require large areas and have low population densities—especially true for carnivores.

“Under a business-as-usual scenario,” the researches write, “conservation scientists will soon be busy writing obituaries for species and subspecies of megafauna as they vanish from the planet.”

The group calls for a comprehensive global strategy that substantially increases political will and funding for conservation through binding regional and international frameworks.

Such a strategy would involve expanded interventions at scales relevant to animals’ habitat needs and large-scale policy shifts to alter the ways people interact with large animals.

Key to this effort, the researchers say, is understanding the value and importance of local human needs and combining international financial support with a coordinated multilateral approach to wildlife conservation.

As regions with the greatest diversity of big animals, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, often lack the resources to implement effective conservation strategies, “the onus is on developed countries,” the researchers write.

And by showing consensus, they hope to “galvanize opinion, catalyze action and establish new funding mechanisms.”

Zimbabwe sits on US $ nine billion dollars worth of ivory

HARARE Zimbabwe (Xinhua) — Zimbabwe is sitting on ivory stockpiles worth more than 9 billion U.S. dollars which it cannot sell due to an international ban on ivory trade, a government minister said.

Environment, Water and Climate Change Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri was quoted Thursday in the state-run Herald newspaper as saying that if allowed to sell, the amount could help in reviving the country’s ailing economy.

The minister said the Southern African Development Community in which Zimbabwe is a member was lobbying for the ban imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be lifted so that the region can unlock value from its abundant wildlife resources.

“We have 96 tonnes of ivory and if we sell it, we will realize about 9.1 billion dollars,” the minister was quoted as saying.

Last month, the minister said Zimbabwe would lobby for the lifting of the ban at the upcoming 17th session of Conference of Parties (COP 17) to CITES to be held in South Africa in September this year.

She said the trade ban was depriving the Zimbabwean population from benefiting from its wildlife resources, adding the country’s huge ivory stockpiles had become dangerous to protect due to rising illegal trade in ivory.

She also said Zimbabwe would not burn its ivory like what Kenya did a few months ago.

“Burning of ivory is not an option for Zimbabwe.

“We need the resources in order to support our communities and wildlife conservation programs,” she said then.