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Will ivory burn fuel the fire for action?


On Saturday 30 April, the world’s largest ever ivory destruction will take place. Kenya will be burning 105 tonnes of ivory, along with 1.5 tonnes of rhino horn, in Nairobi National Park. This will be a strong symbolic gesture that Kenya will not tolerate the illegal wildlife trade that is killing so many of its iconic animals.

Ivory-Inferno-Gabon. Copyright: WWF-Canon / James MorganIvory-Inferno-Gabon. Copyright: WWF-Canon / James Morgan

The stockpile of ivory and rhino horn to be destroyed has been seized from poachers or traders and therefore can never be legally sold under the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  It follows a high level summit today of representatives from African governments that have come together to discuss the conservation of elephants, including how to tackle the poaching driven by the illegal ivory trade.

Reflecting on this ivory burn we should all remember that it is estimated to represent the deaths of six to seven thousand elephants at the hands of poachers. These tusks are the only remnants of these once majestic creatures that are vital to the African ecosystem and the people who live near them. The demand for the ivory comes mostly from Asia, where its carvings are seen as a luxury item showing status and wealth. The growing wealth in Asia is unfortunately one of the factors driving this high level of poaching.

An elephant fitted with a monitoring collar © Greg Armfield / WWF-UKAn elephant fitted with a monitoring collar © Greg Armfield / WWF-UK

Every year an estimated 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers. Some of the hardest hit areas are Tanzania which lost 60% of their elephants in the last five years, mostly to poaching; Mozambique which lost 50% in five years; and Central Africa which is suffering from twice the continental average rate of elephant poaching.  Terrifyingly, if the current poaching trends are not addressed here we could see the extinction of elephants in Central Africa in our lifetime.

South Africa, which is home to 80% of Africa’s rhinos, lost 1175 rhinos to poachers in 2015- a slight decrease on the 1215 in the previous year but still far too many and over 8,900% more than the 13 killed in 2007.  Sadly neighbouring countries have seen an increase in poaching: in Namibia 80 rhinos were lost to poachers in 2015 up from 25 in 2014; and in Zimbabwe 50 rhinos were poached in 2015 more than double the previous year’s total.

A rhino is darted ready for notching © Greg Armfield / WWF-UKA rhino is darted ready for ear-notching used to identify individuals © Greg Armfield / WWF-UK

Elephants are icons for the continent’s poaching crisis. Poaching has been a threat to elephants for decades, but it is more complicated now as it’s driven by international organised crime, which also spans across many more species. This is not just an environmental issue; it is a serious crime that threatens national security, good governance and sustainable development. It is about lost economic opportunities, depriving communities and countries of vital natural resources, including tourism revenues.

However, we know there can be effective change and wildlife crime can be controlled. Key is an approach that combines high-level political will, professionalisation of ranger forces, enhancing local community stewardship of natural wildlife resources, collaboration with all sectors along the illegal wildlife trade chain and effective behaviour change initiatives to reduce the demand for illegal products.

Doreen - rhino ranger, Kenya © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UKDoreen – rhino ranger, Kenya © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UK

Today’s summit is a good example of the African leaders’ commitment to ending wildlife crime. WWF has been deeply involved in both international and African policy processes and is ready to help countries to fulfil their commitments. Gabon was the driving force behind the adoption of the historic United Nations General Assembly Resolution on illicit wildlife trafficking. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed last year include a specific outcome on reducing poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 50 African states and China have committed to work together against wildlife crime. African Union leaders have endorsed the African Common Strategy on Combatting Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora and its Action Plan in 2015. We’re working with international governments to turn these political commitments into action on the ground.

Pressures are also building on Africa’s wild spaces

Infrastructure and agricultural projects are quickly encroaching on spaces that were previously shared by people with wildlife. Private and multilateral investments influence how many and in what way projects are developed. So we’re calling on governments to integrate land-use plans while focusing on development to ensure that spaces such as protected areas and water sources are kept intact.

We must work together to save our shared natural and cultural heritage. The development decisions on how to use Africa’s natural and ecological resources that are made over the next two decades will determine the future of the continent’s people and economies for a long time to come. And the future of iconic African species such as elephants and rhinos.

How can you help?

There are three things you can do to help us protect these species and help eradicate illegal wildlife trade:

Adopt a rhino

Adopt an elephant

Report illegal wildlife trade

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