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West African Countries Sign Elephant Conservation Pact

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 22, 2005 (ENS) - In an attempt to conserve the few remaining West African elephants, 12 countries today signed a treaty to stabilize or improve the condition of the larger populations within seven years, and work towards improving the conservation of all the region's elephants within 10 years.

The treaty was signed under the Convention on Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS), which is holding its eighth conference of Parties this week at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi. Ninety-three countries are now members of the Convention, which is also known as the Bonn Convention as its secretariat is based in Bonn, Germany.

“This is not just a conservation agreement for elephants. By improving their habitats and conserving the region’s ecosystems, this agreement can boost the fortunes and prospects for local people who rely on nature for their livelihoods," said the Achim Steiner, director-general of the IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

"It should also help conserve a myriad of other threatened and endangered species, and the forest and savannah homes in which they live,” Steiner said.

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Elephants in Burkina-Faso, which has a larger population of elephants than most West African Countries. (Photo courtesy Department of Tourism, Burkina-Faso)
The treaty and its associated action plan, or strategy, sets targets and timetables for improving elephant habitats, boosting the numbers of fragile populations, the setting up of wildlife corridors and a host of other measures covering cross-border cooperation.

The 13 range states in West Africa are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. All of these countries signed the treaty except for Ghana, but still, Ghana is taking part in some of the conservation measures outlined in the agreement.

Elephants died by the 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 West Africa.

In the 20th century, elephant numbers continued to decline. Ivory poachers left dead elephants behind, while logging and clearance of habitat for agriculture, expansion of urban settlements, and civil wars shrank their habitat.

The precise number of elephants remaining in West Africa is unknown, but scientists estimate there are “definitely” around 5,000 animals and there could be as many as 13,000. Reliable population statistics exist only for only a quarter of the West African elephants' range, with over 50 percent subject to guesswork.

The largest remaining elephant populations are in Burkina Faso and Benin.

Many of West Africa’s last elephant populations are held in protected areas but many of the staff there are without the means to patrol and enforce conservation laws. The strategy calls for staff to be given better equipment and training to boost morale and the impact of their work.

Experts believe urgent, wide-ranging action is needed because of the perilous state of many of the region’s elephant populations.

In many countries populations are now lower than a 100 animals, making it unlikely that they can survive the next 100 years without swift and far-reaching action. Small populations are more vulnerable to extinction as a result of drought, disease and outbreaks of poaching that remove breeding males.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s executive director, said, “In 2002 nations agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. West Africa’s elephants could, under this agreement, become living proof that the global community can indeed achieve these ambitious aims for animals and plants planetwide.”

Under the new agreement, the first priority will be given to conserving the region’s 22 largest populations, numbering more than 100 animals. But even the small populations will receive attention, with the aim of stabilizing and improving their habitats within 10 years.

The strategy builds on existing national initiatives, and includes a ban on logging in protected areas and measures to reduce farming, mining and hunting in parks.

There are plans for compensation for crop damage by elephants and the establishment of trained, rapid response teams to deal with problem elephants in order to reduce onflicts between elephants and humans.

Dublin

Wearing her elephant print shirt, Holly Dublin, chair of the IUCN's African Elephant Specialist Group signed the West African Elephant agreement as other signers watched. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
To boost the morale of game guards and wildlife officers, scholarships will be provided enabling them to get university degrees in wildlife management.

Better intelligence networks will be established to combat poaching, and incentives for making arrests will be offered as well as better promotion prospects. In addition, better field equipment will be provided at sites with more than 100 elephants.

Trans-boundary wildlife corridors to help elephants migrate between different countries are part of the strategy. Plans are already underway for wildlife corridors between Ghana and Burkina Faso, and Mali and Burkina Faso, and it is hoped the agreement will trigger the development of more corridors in the region.

These routes allow fragmented populations to find food and watering holes as well as to “mix” genetically.

Historically, it has been the bigger populations of elephants in eastern and southern Africa that have attracted most attention, and elephants there have become the focus of a flourishing tourist industry.

By raising awareness, the new agreement could help trigger similar interest and benefits across West Africa, said Lamine Sebogo, program officer for West Africa of the IUCN Species Survival Commission‘s African Elephant Specialist Group.

“I hope this new agreement will raise the profile of elephants in the West African region so that they attract more tourists to the countries concerned," said Sebogo. "This in turn will give local and poor people a real economic inventive to conserve them for current and future generations."

“Signing this agreement is only the first step," said Robert Hepworth, executive secretary of CMS. "We now need to raise substantial resources to assist the countries concerned and the partners involved to implement this ambitious project on the ground.”

UNEP and CMS have spent $50,000 in preparing the agreement and assisting the West African elephant range states, and a further $12,500 is to be made available to IUCN to help support their technical and coordination work for the new agreement. It is hoped this week’s conference of the CMS will allot a further $50,000 to the IUCN.

“This is difficult for a modest Convention like the CMS. We now look to donor States and agencies, as well as range states and the CMS partner organizations, to urgently triple this support to $300,000 and hope this can be secured by the end of this conference," said Hepworth. The conference concludes on Friday.

The West African elephants may be an entirely different species from other African elephants, Loxodonta africana, say experts with the IUCN Species Survival Commission‘s African Elephant Specialist Group. Recent evidence seems to support the hypothesis that there may be two, if not three, different species of elephant in Africa. The scientists say more genetic and other study is necessary to settle this question.

The Strategy for the Conservation of West African Elephants which accompanies today’s agreement is available at: http://iucn.org/afesg/tools/pdfs/str_afw0503_en.pdf

For more information on the African elephant, including the West African situation, visit the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group website: http://www.iucn.org/afesg



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