The significant upward trends in elephant poaching have stabilized, but African elephants continue to face serious threats, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said in a news statement today.
The report is being released in advance of the next major conference of the world’s wildlife trade regulating treaty, in September, when world governments will make crucial decisions on the conservation of elephants and trade in ivory.
The CITES statement:
Many populations of African elephants continued to face serious threats to their survival in 2015 from the illegal trade in ivory and unacceptably high levels of poaching. Two new reports to be presented to the 17th meeting of (CITES CoP17) in September show that elephants are particularly vulnerable in Central and West Africa, where high levels of illegal killing continue.
The MIKE figures show that the steady increase in levels of illegal killing of elephants since 2006, which peaked in 2011, has been halted and stabilized but that levels remain unacceptably high overall. It is estimated that the number of elephants illegally killed annually in Africa between 2010 and 2015 ran into the tens of thousands. Although overall trends are moving in the right direction, elephant poaching in 2015 remains a cause for serious concern.
The figures show that Southern Africa is the only sub-region that has not seen illegal killings exceed natural deaths since MIKE monitoring began in the early 2000s. However, poaching levels remain high in some Southern African sites, such as Niassa Reserve in Mozambique, and a troubling recent spike in elephant poaching was observed for the first time in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The elephant population in Kruger is not in decline, but the situation could change if current trends continue.
Positive news comes from East Africa, where estimated poaching levels declined in 2015 for the fourth consecutive year. The situation in East Africa in 2015 was comparable to poaching levels recorded there in 2008. Yet the situation is also mixed, with increases in poaching evident in parts of the United Republic of Tanzania, and lower levels of poaching recorded in Kenya.
The most serious levels of poaching were again recorded in Central and West Africa, where illegal killings continue to far exceed natural deaths.
With financial support from the European Union, the CITES MIKE Programme has continued to build upon and expand the data and information base that supports the protection of elephants, striving to ensure that information is relevant and used to inform management on site and at national, sub-regional and global levels. It is hoped that the Law Enforcement Capacity Assessments recently developed by the MIKE Programme will result in a better understanding of law enforcement capacity challenges faced by those charged with the protection of elephants across their range, and that this will assist in better focused capacity-building efforts.
The ETIS report concludes with some specific suggestions, which include:
- Continuation and enhancement of the CITES National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process with renewed scrutiny and review [NIAPs are specifically addressed in CITES CoP17 Document 24 (Rev. 1)]
- Greater and more focused commitment on the investigation of large-scale ivory seizures along the entire trade chain
- Scaled-up forensic examinations to source the origins of the ivory
- Establishment of itemized inventory lists of the contents of seizures
- Dedicated and long-term investigations along the entire trade chain
- Routinized interrogations and examination of evidence
- Better use of controlled deliveries (which involves tracking contraband to its destination rather than seizing it at the border) as a means to penetrate deeper into the identities of large-scale criminal operatives.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.