IFAW: Getting Real – urgent plan hopes to reverse onslaught on elephants

Hope for the future of elephants grew a little rosier today, when ministerial delegates to the IUCN African Elephant Summit in Botswana agreed to take urgent action to halt poaching and ivory trafficking.

Importantly, delegates committed to classifying wildlife trafficking as a ‘serious crime, thus unlocking international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime.

“Let’s hope these urgent measures are an active commitment, not a paper commitment, to act against the entire trade chain – range, transit and consumer nations. Finally, it seems, world leaders are getting to grips with the scale of the elephant crisis, hopefully to take positive action before time runs out,” said Jason Bell, Director: IFAW Elephant Programme (International Fund for Animal Welfare) from Botswana.

Eight countries have been identified as particularly problematic with regards to elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade – African elephant source States Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania; transit States Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines; and consumer States Thailand and China.

“So far this year, reports indicate that at least 18 tons of ivory have been seized in 2013, with Kenyan authorities confiscating at least 10 tons at Mombasa Port alone,” said Bell.

“Only 500,000 African Elephants remain in the wild. Between 20,000 and 40,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2012, and this year may be worse. If the killing doesn’t stop, it is predicted that 20 per cent of Africa’s elephants will be lost within 10 years. The time for talking is over and it is time for action if we have any chance to save elephants,” he said.

Other measures agreed at this week’s Summit include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilising financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.

The summit was organised by the Republic of Botswana and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and attended by Heads of State, government representatives and conservationists, thus securing commitment at the highest political level to protect African elephants.

Last month the United States, the world’s second largest consumer of ivory next to China, destroyed six tons of African and Asian elephant ivory in a move intended to show its determination to end ivory trade and wildlife trafficking.

“Destroying the ivory was a symbolic move by the US government which supports their commitment to ending wildlife trafficking and sends a powerful message to poachers and traffickers that there is a determination to end their cruel and illegal activities,” said Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of IFAW.

“IFAW applauds their symbolic action and hopes that the next development toward ending the illegal ivory trade will be a full ivory moratorium in the US,” he said.

Speaking from the Summit, Bell said there was worldwide outrage to the impact that organised criminal networks were having on wildlife populations.

“Wildlife crime ranks among the most serious, dangerous and damaging of international crimes along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms sales. The best chance we have to stop illegal wildlife trade is a real commitment by the international community to take action,” he commented.

“The summit has issued an ultimatum and now those countries that have been identified as being at the centre of this elephant poaching and illegal ivory trafficking crisis must be held to account to implement the resolutions. There can be no excuses and no delay,” said Bell.

“The need is to act immediately and act along the whole trade chain by addressing issues of demand reduction, closing up the loopholes that allow criminals to move ivory around so freely and to put poaching at highest level of priority in order to eliminate the root cause.”

Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as ‘white gold’. Limited availability of legal ivory in China purchased from the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs.

As part of a worldwide capacity building initiative IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. The organisation recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Interpol, the first ever signed by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme with an NGO. IFAW and Interpol have collaborated on numerous projects since 2005 including Interpol’s largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.


For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on 020 7587 6708, mobile 07917 507717 or email csterling@ifaw.org or Christina Pretorius (IFAW South Africa) on +27 21 701 8642; mobile: +27 82 330 2558; email: cpretorius@ifaw.org