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Congo Ivory Burn Could Be Turning Point in Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking

By John Robinson

Today the Republic of Congo burned its confiscated hardwood timber and the country’s entire stockpile of illegal ivory. With the destruction of 4.7 metric tons of ivory, the Congo joins a growing list of countries opting to burn or crush ivory stockpiles as a means of sending a global message on the plight of elephants and a warning to would-be traffickers

Fittingly, the ivory burn coincides with the conclusion of the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa. Hosted by Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso and spread over four days, this first-ever Africa-wide event brought together a wide range of leaders in conservation and government to develop a strategy to put an end to wildlife trafficking in fauna and flora across the continent – a problem that threatens the world’s natural heritage.

The Congo ivory burn comes on the heels of the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa. Photo by Emma Stokes ©WCS.
The Congo ivory burn comes on the heels of the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa. Photo by Emma Stokes ©WCS.

The Congo government’s actions today will remove the possibility of its ivory serving an economic use. Equally important, they coincide with implementation of a new system for recording and managing illegal ivory.

Congolese officials can now track its ivory inventory with a new tablet technology that helps track the chain of custody from the location of its seizure to the central depot in Brazzaville and finally to the burn site. This technology is currently being used to document new confiscations in two of the country’s most prized natural treasures: Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

In the Republic of Congo's Conkouati-Douli park, protective measures have Led to elephant numbers expanding by as much as 50 percent since 2010. Photo by Hilde VanLeeuwe © WCS.
In the Republic of Congo’s Conkouati-Douli park, protective measures have led to elephant numbers expanding by as much as 50 percent since 2010. Photo by Hilde VanLeeuwe © WCS.

On another front, the Republic of Congo is working to strengthen international restrictions on the trade in illegal ivory through the recent submission of its National Ivory Action Plan to the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – a plan completed with technical support from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and already in the process of being implemented.

Today’s burn event was coordinated and implemented by WCS in collaboration with the Government of Congo, with additional technical expertise provided by Stop Ivory. Financial support for the ivory burn was provided by Stop Ivory and the Wildcat Foundation.

The Congo government’s actions today coincide with implementation of a new system for recording and managing illegal ivory. Photo by Emma Stokes ©WCS.
The Congo government’s actions today coincide with implementation of a new system for recording and managing illegal ivory. Photo by Emma Stokes ©WCS.

WCS has been proud to work with the Republic of Congo to protect its elephants, gorillas, and other threatened species since the early 1990s. WCS has played a leading role in assisting the Congo government in managing the wildlife and habitat of its protected areas, including Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Conkouati-Douli National Park, and Odzala-Kokua National Park.

WCS has also partnered with both the government and local communities to create and manage the Lac Tele Community Reserve and with logging companies to protect wildlife in timber concessions that surround national parks.

Due to conservation efforts in Congo’s Nouabale-Ndoki (above) and Odzala-Kokoua National Parks, elephant numbers have held steady in the past decade. Photo by Mike Kock ©WCS
Due to conservation efforts in Congo’s Nouabale-Ndoki (above) and Odzala-Kokoua National Parks, elephant numbers have held steady in the past decade. Photo by Mike Kock ©WCS

The Republic of Congo is showing strong leadership in the fight against poachers and illegal loggers and we are hopeful that today’s ivory and timber burn will signify a turning point in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking.

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Dr. John Robinson is Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). You can follow John on Twitter at: @wildcons