Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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The threatening thirst for the white gold

 

Photo: UNEP

The future of African elephants remains uncertain as illegal ivory trade continued to grow during 2013.

Today, China destroyed more than six tonnes of illegal ivory amid growing concerns over elephant poaching.

The UN report, “Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis”, found that elephant poaching doubled and illegal ivory trade tripled in the last decade, endangering already fragile populations in Central Africa, as well as previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa.

“The surge in the killing of elephants in Africa and the illegal taking of other listed species globally threatens not only wildlife populations but the livelihoods of millions who depend on tourism for a living and the lives of those wardens and wildlife staff who are attempting to stem the illegal tide,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

The UN report warns that criminal networks are increasingly involved and entrenched in the trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia, where demand is high, particularly in countries with a growing economy such as China. Last summer, eight countries identified as being the most affected by the illegal trade in elephant ivory, submitted national action plans to the United Nations-backed treaty for the conservation of endangered species containing measures to combat the scourge.

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) received plans from China, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda, Tanzania and Viet Nam – identified as primary source, transit and import countries affected by the illegal trade in ivory.

Ivory destruction in countries along the trade chain "clearly tells consumers everywhere that ivory buying is unethical and wrong," Azzedine Downs, CEO of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) told Al Jazeera News.

The IFAW said the destruction was a powerful symbolic act that showed that the Chinese government is "concerned about the toll ivory trafficking is taking on elephant populations, as well as the other threats to regional security that arise in connection with wildlife crime."

IFAW estimates that more than 35,000 elephants were killed last year by ivory poachers.

Elephants’ survival is also threatened by the increasing loss of habitat in about 29 per cent of their range as a result of rapid human population growth and large-scale land conversion for agriculture. Currently, some models suggest this figure may increase to 63 per cent by 2050, which represents a major additional threat to the survival of the elephant in the long term.

Ivory can fetch up to $2,000 per kilogramme on the black market, earning it the nickname "white gold."

Demand is fuelled by rapid growth in China, now the world's second biggest economy, which has created a vast middle class with the spending power to buy ivory carvings regarded as status symbols.

 

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