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World Wildlife Day, March 3: Act now to save the African elephant


March 3 marks World Wildlife Day – an event established by the United Nations in December 2013 in honour of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

 This year’s theme focuses on the African and Asian elephant, a species that typifies criminality against wild animals.

African elephants will become extinct if nothing is done

The figures speak for themselves: some 25,000 to 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa. In the period from 2010 to 2012 alone, 100,000 elephants were killed. In other words, more elephants are dying on the continent than are being born – the gestation period for an elephant is 20 to 22 months. And if nothing is done, there will be no more elephants in Africa in just a few decades at most, according to many experts. East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania have marked the strongest decline in this species. In Tanzania, their population fell by 63% in five years, according to official figures released in 2015. Last year, more than 20% of the elephants in central Mali were killed, according to the UN and NGOs

Savanna elephants and forest elephants

Africa contains two subspecies of elephant: the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana), the biggest land animal in the world, and the forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), which has a different size, and differently shaped tusks, skull, and skeleton. 
Nowadays, forest elephants are concentrated in the dense tropical forests of Central and West Africa – and they are becoming increasingly rare and isolated. Savanna elephants live in Southern and Eastern Africa. Botswana has the highest population, and this species is also found in South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia.

There were 470,000 elephants living in the wild in 2013, according to figures presented at the Kasana Conference held in March 2015 in Botswana. There were 1.2 million in 1980. And 20 million at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Illegal ivory trade fuelled by Asian demand

The international ivory trade is at the heart of this criminality that is ravaging the populations of African elephants. It has been banned since 1989, but the prohibition was partially lifted in 1997 and it generates huge revenues and intensive poaching.

The price of ivory, costlier than gold, tripled on the Asian markets from 2010 to 2014, according to the NGO Save the Elephant. In fact, ivory is highly prized in Asia, where demand is driving the illegal trade. Carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

The AfDB sounds the alarm

Even before the proclamation of World Wildlife Day this March 3, to raise awareness and stimulate large-scale mobilisation to fight wildlife-related crime – transnational criminality that weakens states, promotes mafia networks and knows no borders – the African Development Bank had taken the problem on.

In May 2013, during its Annual Meetings and in partnership with WWF, it launched the Marrakech Declaration, a 10-point action plan calling on Governments, organisations and citizens to urgently mobilise to "combat illicit wildlife trafficking" and thus to preserve the biodiversity of Africa.

In fact, it is an entire ecosystem and the very foundations of African states that are threatened: poaching and illegal trade fuel corruption and criminal networks, including arms and drugs trafficking, and they finance conflict and terrorist organisations.

Strong measures

More and more states, international organisations, NGOs and civil society groups are becoming mobilised.

Some states destroy seized ivory stocks. This is what Kenya did, for example, in early March 2015, when it burned 15 tonnes of tusks worth about US $30 million. In Ethiopia, the authorities burned more than six tonnes of ivory, worth US $12 million, in March of the same year.

From January to October 2015, a huge Interpol operation, Operation Worthy II, mobilised the police services of 11 African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – leading to more than 200 arrests and the seizure of nearly two tonnes of contraband ivory.

In Kasana in 2015, Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania asked for a moratorium "of at least ten years on all ivory sales to allow time for our elephant populations to stabilise.”