Ivory Trade Poaching Has Claimed 11,000 Elephants In Africa
February 7, 2013

Ivory Trade Poaching Has Claimed 11,000 Elephants In Africa

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Gabon's Minkebe Park, once home to Africa's largest forest elephant population, has lost a staggering 11,100 individuals to poaching for the ivory trade, according to a new study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Recent surveys of regions of the park, conducted by WCS, WWF and Gabon's Agence Nationale des parcs Nationaux (ANPN), reveal that two thirds of the park's elephant population has vanished since 2004, with the majority of the losses taking place in the last five years.

Funding for the survey came from ANPN, the CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) Program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Overall, Gabon contains over half of Africa's forest elephants, with a population estimated at over 40,000.

"This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past," WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper, said in a statement. "We believe that elephants can still be saved — but only if nations greatly increase their efforts to stop poaching while eliminating the illegal ivory trade through better enforcement and reduced demand."

Gabon's elephant herds, until recently, were thought to be less impacted by poaching than other parts of Africa. According to the Born Free Foundation, an estimated 31,800 individuals were lost to poaching last year. In recent years, however, ANPN has reported an uptick of poaching in Gabon, including the 2011 slaughter of 27 elephants in a protected area just outside the country's capital.

A significant increase in human activity in Minkebe National Park and its buffer zone was detected in June 2011. What had been a small camp of 300 gold miners had swollen to over 5,000 miners, poachers, arms and drug dealers. Increases in demands for ivory from the Far East, and the following price hike resulted in 50-100 elephants a day being killed in the park, park authorities estimate.

The survey results have galvanized Gabon's anti-poaching efforts. Authorities have seized 20 tusks in the nation´s capital of Libreville and arrested poachers who had illegally entered the country from neighboring Cameroon. Park staff engaged in a firefight with armed poachers recently in Minkebe after arresting two persons carrying six tusks.

Gabon will pass new legislation to further dissuade commercial ivory poachers by increasing prison terms to a minimum of three years for ivory poachers and 15 years for poaching and ivory trafficking that involves organized crime, President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced. The president called for a strong, coordinated, and decisive response to this national emergency from all security and wildlife management personnel.

Lee White, head of the ANPN said, "Over the last three years we have deployed 400 additional parks staff, 120 soldiers and 30 gendarmes in our fight to stop illegal killing of elephants for the black market ivory trade. Despite our efforts we continue to lose elephants every day. If we do not turn the situation around quickly the future of the elephant in Africa is doomed. These new results illustrate starkly just how dramatic the situation has become. Our actions over the coming decade will determine whether these iconic species survive."

Richard Ruggiero, Chief of the Branch of the Near East, South Asia and Africa, Division of International Conservation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said, "We are working closely with the Gabonese authorities, who are showing true leadership, but this is a global problem and will require a global solution."

Mike Fay is the WCS explorer who played a key role in convincing the late Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba to create a network of 13 national parks in 2002. He commented, "Conservation efforts in the Minkebe region have failed to react to the growing pressure of ivory poaching with tragic results. We need rethink how we do business and to act decisively if we are to save the elephant."