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WED – the single biggest day for positive action on the environment worldwide, which takes place on June 5 each year – will be themed around the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. This is an issue of particular importance in Angola, where poaching is threatening efforts to rebuild an elephant population decimated by decades-long civil war.
“Angola is delighted to host World Environment Day, which will focus on an issue close to our hearts,” said Angolan Environment Minister Maria de Fatima Jardim.
“The illegal wildlife trade, particularly the trade in ivory and rhino horn, is a major problem across our continent. By hosting this day of celebration and awareness-raising, we aim to send a clear message that such practices will soon be eradicated.”
Very little is known about the size of Angola’s remaining elephant population, which historically lived in the southeast of the country, also crossing the borders to neighbouring countries.
The Great Elephant Census, the first aerial survey of known elephant ranges in Angola, is underway in an attempt to build a clearer picture of the population in the Kaza Area. The information collected will be used in the government’s elephant inventory programme and for the conservation of wild habitats in the Okavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and the Cuando-Cubango province.
Earlier this year, Angola also committed to revising its Penal Code to bring in tougher punishments for poachers, part of its efforts to reverse the damage to its wildlife populations.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “This year we have seen significant steps to combat the illegal wildlife trade, including the first United Nations resolution on wildlife trafficking, which called for it to be treated as a serious crime both nationally and across borders. World Environment Day 2016 will highlight these efforts in a country itself committed to eliminating this scourge. UNEP looks forward to partnering with Angola to raise awareness of the issue and accelerate the action that will protect species, ecosystems and livelihoods from extinction.”
The number of elephants killed in Africa in recent years is greater than 20,000 a year, out of a population of 420,000 to 650,000. According to data from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as many as 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012.
Across Africa, more elephants have been killed in recent years than have died of natural causes, and for forest elephants in Central and West Africa, the population declined by an estimated 60 per cent between 2002 and 2011.
Official reports show that 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone in 2014 – this translates to one rhino killed every eight hours. The rapid rise in rhino poaching, from less than 20 in 2007 has been driven by the involvement of organized syndicates in the poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.