Tag Archives: political will

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.

Death in China, one dollar in Africa – the irony of ivory poaching penalties

SHARON VAN WYK, Daily Maverick

23 Oct 2013

In China the penalty for poaching an elephant is death. In Africa, it is considerably less. The irony in this is that the global trade in illegal ivory is driven, for the most part, by China, some of whose citizens are helping to lay waste to Africa’s elephants, largely without fear of retribution. By SHARON VAN WYK.

Earlier this year a Chinese smuggler, apprehended in Kenya whilst in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined a mere US$350 for the haul of 439 pieces of ivory found in his possession before being released. That’s less than US$1 apiece.

This one incident illustrates perhaps the biggest challenge facing those battling to save Africa’s elephant population from almost certain extinction at the hands of ivory poachers – outdated, and in some cases woefully inadequate legislation and penalties which, rather than acting as a deterrent, actually encourage poaching.

Add to the mix corruption and political malfeasance at virtually every level of government, and the word extinction looms larger than ever, unless swift action is taken by African countries to improve the laws supposedly protecting their wildlife. Justice is most certainly not on the side of elephants.

In Kenya the current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (around US$470), and a possible jail term of up to 10 years. With a black market price of as much as US$7,000 per kilogram, it is infinitely affordable to get caught with your fingers in the ivory jar. Which is what happened to four Chinese citizens who were apprehended attempting to smuggle thousands of dollars’ worth of ivory out of Kenya. Their punishment? Each was allowed to pay a US$340 fine and then go free.

Kenya is far from alone. In neighbouring Uganda, poachers are punished on the same level as petty criminals with small fines or suspended sentences. In Gabon a woeful maximum one-year sentence or approximately US$40,000 awaits convicted poachers, including repeat offenders, while wildlife traffickers in the Republic of Congo face up to five years in jail and risk having their sentence doubled if they are found to be repeat offenders.

Court punishment for a convicted elephant poacher in Tanzania can be as little as US$13. Tanzanian officials have said that in 670 cases tried between March 2012 and March this year, fines totalling US$109,377 were incurred. That’s an average of just under US$164 per case.

The recent cyanide poisoning of waterholes in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by ivory poachers, which claimed the lives of more than 90 elephants, was met with surprisingly swift retribution by the country’s wildlife authorities, with three poachers each sentenced to 16 years behind bars and a collective massive fine of US$800,000.

However, recent reports from the Zimbabwe press suggest that the reason for this unusually harsh (for Zimbabwe) punishment is to deflect attention away from possible high-ranking government involvement in the killing.

The question, then, is whether it is possible to get it right in the fight against the ivory trade. In this respect African states can take their lead from Botswana, where effective anti-poaching is supported by strong leadership and political will from President Ian Khama and an effective judiciary, backed by tough wildlife legislation and strong involvement of the military. Indeed, the Botswana Defense Force is deployed to protect not just elephants, but all of the country’s wildlife.

Elephant range states are being urged to give similar unequivocal commitment to the implementation of necessary legislation, law enforcement and deterrent penalties needed to stem elephant poaching and the related illegal trade and trafficking in ivory at the forthcoming International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Government of Botswana Emergency African Elephant Summit which is being held in Botswana’s capital of Gaborone from December 2-4 this year.

The Summit is being hosted by President Khama and will bring together heads of state and representatives from both African elephant range states and key ivory trade transit and destination countries. DM

Sharon van Wyk is an award-winning conservation writer and wildlife documentary maker and works with the Conservation Action Trust – www.conservationaction.co.za