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A huge display of ivory stolen from the bodies of Africa’s fabled forest elephants has been put on show after an operation helped by UK experts. Anti-trafficking agents seized more than 100 forest elephant tusks just weeks after being trained by the Zoological Society of London, it was revealed today.
The undercover team seized 106 tusks, weighing almost 200 kilos and with an estimated street price of £120,000, during an operation in Cameroon last month.
Yet the elephants killed to supply the haul are some of the rarest on Earth.
Forest elephants – scientific name Loxodonta Africana cyclotis – are genetically distinct from their savannah cousins and are officially classified as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species with numbers having crashed by 60 per cent between 2002 and 2012 because of ivory trafficking.
Cameroon has been stepping up efforts to protect the precious forest elephants and agents from its Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) were recently trained by ZSL conservation law enforcement specialists on evidence gathering and profiling techniques.
MINOF agents – their faces redacted – have posted pictures after their recent operation which resulted in the large seizure and two arrests. It is the second time in six months the same team has recovered large amounts ivory.
In December, they seized 400 kilos during an operation at a UNESCO reserve in the south of the country.
ZSL’s head of Africa conservation programmes Chris Ransom today welcomed the operation.
He said: “We would like to send our congratulations to the MINFOF team for their outstanding work, which comes hot-on-the-heels of their record-breaking seizure in December.
“Results like this are testament to what can be achieved when we collaborate with in-country law enforcement teams to build conservation capacity in the regions where we operate.
“Seizures like this will also have a wider conservation impact beyond Cameroon’s borders.
“As word filters through that smuggling routes are being more effectively policed, so poachers and traffickers will become more reluctant to engage in the trade, resulting in fewer elephants being killed for their tusks.”
As news of the ZSL support for efforts in Cameroon anti-trafficking operations was being released, Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons how Britain is introducing “one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales”.
MPs heard the new Ivory Bill carries maximum five years’ jail sentences and unlimited fines for breaching the ban.
Mr Gove told MPs as the Bill received an unopposed second reading: “The African elephant is an important species not just because what it symbolises, not just because of the economic impact that tourism makes in Africa, but also because it is a keystone species upon which the health, the biodiversity and the resilience of Africa’s economy depends.
“Unless action is taken in order to interdict the poachers and to reduce the demand for ivory, it could be the case that on our watch as a generation that we see the African elephant meet extinction.
“It would be impossible for any of us to face our children and grandchildren and to say that we had the opportunity to take the steps legislative and otherwise to safeguard this magnificent creature and we failed to act.
“The legislation which is before the House today is an opportunity for us in the United Kingdom to play a part and to show leadership.”
Reducing global demand for ivory has become a vital strategy in conservation efforts to save both African and Asian elephant populations facing carnage, with as many as 20,000 animals slaughtered annually.