Ivory in Gabon: speeches and realities


Khephren Fanga, Gabonews

Date Published
From 2004 to 2012, northern Gabon officially lost 11,000 elephants due to exacerbated poaching.(http://www.wcs.org/press/press-releases/gabon-elephant-slaughter.aspx)
Based primarily on Gabonese ivory seizures in the World (2 tons in Hong Kong in August 2013, 3.8 tons in Togo in February 2014, 6 tons in Malaysia in December 2012) for two years, the situation has not been improving. National Geographic also mentions Gabon as one of the countries from which seized ivory often comes from. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140603-ivory-trafficking-elephants-togo-lome-laga-world/ 
Recent ivory seizures in Benin also involve Gabon as the country of origin. 
There are many arrests of ivory traffickers in Gabon but they are often released quickly. Firstly, due to the legislation which is among the weakest in Africa (6 months maximum jail for smuggling ivory), secondly because of the poor implementation of law. This seems paradoxical if one considers the political will, which is presented in conferences and international media. 
In comparison, the prison sentence for ivory trade is 5 years in Congo, 3 years in Cameroon, 5 years in Benin, 2 years in Togo, 5 years in Burkina Faso, 3 years in Chad, 5 years in Senegal … and only 6 months in Gabon! 
At the recent London Conference in February 2014, covered by many media outlets including BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26153523), the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, explained: ” Last year I burned all of our stock of ivory, to get the message out that Gabon, has zero tolerance for the illegal ivory trade and the crime associated with wildlife. Just before today’s meeting, I signed a new law making the poaching and trafficking of elephants a crime, extending to three years the minimum sentence imposed on convicted poachers, and demanding a life sentence in cases involving crimes in gangs. ” (http://www.presidentalibongo.com/le-projet-de-societe/les-discours/discours-du-president-ali-bongo-ondimba-lors-de-la-conference-de). 
In 2013, following the confirmation of the mass slaughter of elephants in the National Park Minkebe, President Ali Bongo Ondimaba, had already declared that Gabon would pass a new law (http://www.presidentalibongo.com/presse/communiques/plus-de-11-000-elephants-tues-depuis-2004-dans-le-parc-national-de-minkebe-et-ses?page=1). 
All these signs of political will and collaboration with various donors have allowed Gabon to receive significant financial support, including the European Union, the French Development Agency and United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These funds are mainly directed to the National Parks Agency (ANPN) under supervision of the Presidency until a little while ago. But the legislation has not been changed and it appears that traffickers are still effective, killing an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 elephants each year in Gabon. 
Fighting against these criminal networks first requires the commitment of law enforcement and judicial authorities, and it is unclear how the ANPN with its operations could provide real solutions. 
The elephant, an iconic species, could disappear from Gabon without a radical change in the law and its application. Given that corruption is important and that the authorities are involved in the ivory trade, we fear that elephants could disappear before the passage of a new law protecting them. The image of the Gabon Vert will remain tainted … permanently.