Tag Archives: Dzanga Bai

The Heavy Cost of Elephant Poaching

y Andrea Turkalo, U.S. News
October 24, 2013

Curbing ivory poaching requires major changes in political will

An unprecedented demand for ivory today has resulted in the slaughter of elephants throughout their range. It is estimated that 96 elephants were killed in Africa each day during 2012. That translates to four elephants an hour or one elephant every 15 minutes. In scarcely more time than it takes to read this commentary, one more elephant will be dead.

Fueling this devastation are greed for a rare commodity, local poverty and social disorder. Wracked by civil strife, central Africa presently finds itself amidst political chaos that has enabled people to profit from the looting of natural resources, including wildlife. At present rates of decline, forest elephants could go extinct within a decade.

Twenty three years ago, I began studying a population of forest elephants at the Dzanga Bai clearing in the southwest corner of the Central African Republic. Protection for this particular population was probably the best in the entire central Africa region, with regular guard patrols routinely confiscating arms and arresting poachers.

To get to the clearing one must walk a couple of kilometers from the local base camp along huge elephant trails stamped out over hundreds of years. After a half hour’s walk through the forest, the sky lightens as the trees give way to a great clearing. Upon emerging, you may see 40 to 100 elephants at any given time – part of an estimated regional population of roughly 75,000 animals.

Having no nationality, the elephants arrive from across the larger Sangha Tri-National Protected Area, some traveling hundreds of miles. They become very excited when they recognize family members they haven’t encountered for a long time. Elephants can be seen running across the clearing several hundred meters to greet each other in what are visibly emotional encounters.

In March of this year, the Central African Republic’s government was toppled with the help of heavily armed rebels calling themselves Seleka. Since then, Seleka has wreaked havoc with both local people and the nation’s wildlife. In early April, the rebels infiltrated the Dzanga Bai clearing, gunned down 26 elephants with automatic weapons, hacked out the animals’ tusks, then vanished.

The driving force behind the escalation in poaching is the demand for ivory in the Far East, notably from China, as well as from other areas of the developed world. The price per kilo of ivory skyrocketed in the past decade as rising incomes in these places provided more and more people with the means to purchase intricately-carved, high-status ivory objects.

Stemming the current tide of elephant poaching will be difficult. The first line of defense in protecting wildlife entails the presence of well-trained and equipped guards whose work is valued and rewarded. In all areas of Africa there are insufficient numbers of such forces. Where present, they are often poorly equipped with low morale, leaving them susceptible to corruption.

As the Dzanga Bai incident suggests, armed rebel groups are increasingly involved in the ivory trade. Writing recently in The New York Times, a former assistant to Defense Secretaries Panetta and Hagel noted that Al Shabab, the Somali group believed responsible for the recent mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya, receives up to half its operating funds from ivory sales.

The rise of rebel groups like Al Shabab threatens regional stability and reflects a growing casualty of the ivory trade: people. Excruciating poverty exists in much of the elephants’ range. Where natural resources like wildlife and minerals are not managed sustainably so that all citizens reap benefits, poverty will persist, creating further economic disparity and fueling greater insecurity.

Curbing ivory poaching requires major changes in political will. Existing wildlife laws must be enforced and perpetrators punished if poaching is to be perceived as a serious crime. Intelligence gathering is needed to determine how poaching syndicates operate. Finally, ivory destination countries must accept responsibility for driving the precipitous decline of the largest terrestrial mammal.

Under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative, and with the strong support of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, 16 international conservation NGOs are working now with the governments of African elephant range states and ivory consumer nations to achieve these goals. Our message is simple: Stop the killing. Stop the trafficking. Stop the demand.

And, yes, mourn the elephant whose life was brutally taken in the time it took to read this.

How to end the elephant slaughter

By Cristian Samper, Patrick Bergin, Peter Seligmann, Azzedine Downes, and Carter Roberts, CNN
September 27, 2013

(CNN) — Dzanga Bai is a magical place of natural wonder. It is on the Central African Republic’s southwest border with the Republic of Congo and is widely considered the most important gathering place for forest elephants in the entire Congo basin. For decades — and probably centuries — elephants by the hundreds from across the region have congregated there, reconnecting with family members and drinking the mineral-rich waters.

Last May, a group of heavily armed men, believed to be linked to the Seleka rebel group, entered Dzanga Bai and slaughtered a reported two dozen elephants.

By the time Dzanga Bai’s elephant carcasses were discovered, the perpetrators were gone, leaving in their wake a horrific crime scene of heads carved up for their precious ivory. Tusks like these, typically destined for Asian markets, where growing demand has quickly driven up prices, have in recent years presented a new opportunity for quick cash to finance the operations of armed gangs from the Central African Republic east to Somalia. It is now widely understood that groups ranging from Darfur’s Janjaweed to Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army have turned to this revenue source.

“The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake…”
The growth of these groups, with funds from illegal wildlife trafficking, is destabilizing African governments even as it devastates populations of elephants, rhinos and other high value wildlife. Operating through terror and intimidation, roving rebel armies undermine democratic governance and responsible resource management while devastating regional economies through disruptions to tourism and local livelihoods.

In meetings in the United States, Asia and Africa this year, we have listened as leaders have shared their growing anxiety. The new poachers are tied to criminal syndicates. Rifles and machetes have been enhanced or replaced with helicopters, night visions goggles, sophisticated telecommunications and automatic weapons. Local communities are terrified and national governments fear losing large swaths of territory to these gangs.

Out of these conversations has emerged a challenge to the world—from African nations–to stop buying ivory. Representatives of the governments of Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, along with the international nongovernmental organizations we represent, have gathered in New York this week to announce an important commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative. Together, we have three straightforward goals: (1) stop the killing; (2) stop the trafficking; and (3) stop the demand.

To stop the killing and the trafficking, the international community can help states that make up the present range of the African elephant by providing equipment, training and expertise. President Obama recently dedicated $10 million for law enforcement efforts and the creation of a wildlife trafficking task force at the highest levels of the U.S. government, complementing existing U.S. initiatives. European and other nations, along with private citizens, need to join him in committing emergency resources to enforcement efforts in elephant landscapes and ivory trafficking ports.

Despite a ban on international trade in ivory imposed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1989, domestic sales remain legal in a number of countries, including the United States. Because these legal markets can provide a front for laundering illegal ivory into the trade, moratoria on domestic sales of ivory are also a vital part of anti-trafficking efforts.

Stopping the demand requires new strategies. Removing the prestige associated with buying ivory requires creative new uses of social media and other tools to change consumption behavior in China and elsewhere. Once the demand for ivory is curtailed there will be little financial incentive for criminal groups to continue elephant poaching and trafficking.

Yet because carved ivory is a centuries-old cultural tradition, this change will take time — something the world’s dwindling elephant populations don’t have. That is why African nations with the greatest remaining elephant populations have begun to call for nations across the globe to stop selling and purchasing ivory until all African elephant populations have recovered to healthy levels.

The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake: the loss of roughly three-quarters of all remaining African forest elephants; the murder of hundreds of courageous wildlife guards; regional government resources stretched to their limits as villagers across sub-Saharan Africa live in daily terror.

The initiative launched this week by representatives of elephant range states, ivory consumer nations, and our organizations has been endorsed by an unprecedented group of conservation partners that include the African Parks Network, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Freeland Foundation, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid, and Wildlife Direct.

This effort is our best bet at saving these majestic, highly intelligent and socially complex creatures while bringing much-needed stability to governments whose hopes for a brighter future require that armed gangs no longer operate within their borders. Before it’s too late, let’s stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.

Editor’s note: Cristián Samper is the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Patrick Bergin is the president and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation; Peter Seligmann is chairman and CEO of Conservation International; Azzedine Downes is the president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and Carter Roberts is the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund