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African Elephant Countries Strategize to Thwart Poaching
BAMAKO, Mali, February 6, 2008 (ENS) - Elephant conservation and anti-ivory trade initiatives are the focus of a meeting that opened today here with delegates from 17 African elephant range states. Organizers say there is potential for the formation of a coalition of like-minded states that will work towards strengthening elephant conservation.

The gathering is hosted by the governments of Mali and Kenya and facilitated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW.

The meeting grew out of an informal agreement last June at the conference of parties to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, CITES to support a 20 year ivory trade moratorium proposal by Kenya and Mali.

Southern African range states - Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe - have been lobbying for a lifting of the ban on ivory trade, a move that some say would benefit these countries at the expense of the majority of the 28 elephant range states in Africa.

Stockpile of government-owned ivory in Zimbabwe (Photo courtesy Graham Child)

All the African elephant range states reached a compromise at the CITES conference in June by agreeing to a suspension of the ivory trade for nine years after a one-off sale of 60 metric tons of government owned ivory stocks by the four countries.

They can sell only those government stockpiles officially registered prior to January 31, 2007 and only under strict CITES oversight. Japan has been approved as a trading partner, and China is now seeking approval to purchase ivory legally under the new agreement.

Still, elephant conservationists believe that permitting any legal ivory sales will provide cover for poachers and the black market trade in elephant tusks.

"This tonnage of ivory is sure to stimulate market demand and encourage poachers to kill elephants," says Michael Wamithi, program manager for IFAW's global Elephants Programme.

At least 20,000 elephants are killed annually for their ivory and the lives of about 100 rangers are lost each year protecting them, IFAW estimates.

At the CITES meeting, representatives of the elephant range states agreed to collectively address the long term issues of elephant conservation. This meeting in Bamako aims to consider these long term issues.

The delegates are from Mali, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

They are considering the welfare of a population of African elephants that has dropped sharply from 1.3 million elephants in the early 1970s to an estimated 450,000 remaining today.

African elephants cover themselves in soil after taking a mud bath in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. (Photo by Mgiganteus)

In Kenya, however, the elephant population is increasing. The Kenya Wildlife Service this week announced the results of a census of the elephant population in Tsavo National Park and the surrounding ecosystem which shows that numbers have increased and poaching is at minimal levels.

Tsavo is Kenya's largest national park and the elephant population there is now 11,696 which is an increase over the 10,397 elephants counted there three years ago.

The new figure from this year's census represents a 4.1 per cent growth rate, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service Director Dr. Julius Kipng'etich. "The elephant is Kenya's flagship species and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife," he said.

This is encouraging news for the elephant conservationists, but IFAW says vigilance is still needed to safeguard Africa's elephants.

IFAW Wildlife and Habitat Programme Director Kevin Shields said, "The illegal trade in ivory and illegal killing of elephants has continued unabated in many elephant range states since CITES decisions in 1997 to allow some South African states to undertake ivory stockpile sales. The time has come to formally unify ourselves in the plight for the conservation of elephants, in order to stop the killing."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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