Nations unite against illegal ivory trade
A three-day African Elephant Summit convened by Botswana Government and the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) has shed some light into the dark realities of illicit ivory trade.
Delegates from different states where illegal ivory trade flourishes, converged at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) this week in a solution finding mission to halt the illicit trade and secure elephant populations across Africa.
It would have been a normal event with boring speeches, but to symbolise the relevance and concerns of the summit, delegates took five minutes of the opening ceremony to watch part of ‘Wildlife Warriors’, a wildlife documentary that highlights Botswana’s anti-poaching efforts.
The documentary that features President Lieutenant General Ian Khama during his days as Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander features depressing scenes of poaching activity as well as a hopeful story of restoration brought about by the military intervention.
After the video clip, Khama was welcomed to the podium by a thunderous applause by the capacity-filled hall that included delegates from South Africa, Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia and ivory transit states Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand.
Khama told the delegation that he growing trade in illegal ivory was a national issue, not sectoral , and that for many of the African countries, it required leadership, commitment and direction at the highest political level to ensure that the necessary resources were made for a highly approach to law enforcement.
Khama said Botswana was proud that it was home to a healthy elephant population.
“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act,” he told the summit.
“Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species,” he added.
One of the 14 measures the delegates committed to involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime.”
According to the IUCN, this will unlock 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.
Other measures agreed upon include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilizing financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.
“We are very pleased with the result of the summit, especially as it involves some of the most important countries along the illegal ivory value chain,” said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre.
“We hope that these outcomes will go beyond the summit’s focus on African elephants and boost broader efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade in other species which have been threatened by it, such as rhinos and pangolins.”
According to the IUCN, 2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and it says 2012 showed no signs of abating.
Poverty and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia are the principle drivers of poaching and the illegal ivory trade, according to the IUCN.