November 24, 2005

West African states agree to save elephants

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Reuters) - West African states emerging from years
of civil strife have pledged to conserve and protect dwindling
elephant populations, a Liberian government official said on

Experts say elephants in West Africa died by their
thousands in the 19th century ivory trade and as a result of
the construction of roads and railways following the arrival of
European colonial powers.

In the 20th century, elephant numbers continued to decline
with more ivory poaching and new threats, such as habitat
destruction through logging and farming as well as conflict.

West African states have witnessed civil unrest and
political instability over the last three decades -- notably in
Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria -- which experts
say has had a serious impact on wildlife.

Experts estimate the number of elephants left in the region
of 13 countries to be between 5,000-13,000.

"West Africa was having serious problems in terms of
instability and when people don't have peace, they don't think
about conservation -- they first think about human
preservation," Anthony Jarbo Tablah, a senior Liberian wildlife
expert told Reuters.

"Now the entire region is more or less returning to
stability, we want to focus on development and looking after
the environment which is why 13 countries in West Africa signed
this treaty on Tuesday," he added.

The treaty and its action plan set targets and timetables
for improving elephant habitats, boosting fragile populations
and setting up protected wildlife corridors between countries.

While the largest remaining elephant populations are in
Burkina Faso and Benin, other West African countries have
populations of fewer than 100.

Wildlife experts say it is unlikely these smaller
populations will survive without swift and far-reaching action,
as they are more vulnerable to extinction due to drought,
disease and poaching which removes breeding males.

Under the aegis of the Convention of Migratory Species
(CMS), the treaty plans for compensation for crop damage by
elephants and the establishment of trained, rapid response
teams to deal with rogue elephants to reduce animal-human

It also provides for better intelligence networks to be
established to combat poaching and incentives for making