Conservation efforts pay off as elephant poaching declines in EA

A family of elephants graze in the Maasai Mara. PHOTO | FILE
A family of elephants graze in the Maasai Mara. PHOTO | FILE | Ben Solomon 

Elephant poaching in Africa declined for the fifth year in a row with a significant drop in the illegal activity witnessed in East Africa.

This is according to the latest data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which reveals that in 2016, the overall downward trend of elephant poaching on the continent has continued

At the same time, 2016 recorded the highest level of seizures of illegally traded ivory by weight since its trade was banned by CITES in 1989.

“Eastern Africa has been badly affected by the surge in poaching over the last 10 years, and has experienced an almost 50 per cent reduction in elephant population,” CITES secretary general John Scanlon said.

“There has, however, been a steady decline in poaching levels since its peak in 2011, and the analysis from 2016 concludes that overall poaching trends have now dropped to pre-2008 levels....This shows us what is possible through sustained and collective front-line enforcement and demand reduction efforts, coupled with strong political support,” he added.


Population rise

Although the report indicates that Tanzania remains the region’s stronghold for elephant populations, elephant numbers recorded in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are also stable or on the rise.

The number of elephants carcass records from three Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) sites in Tanzania, for example, dropped by 55 per cent in 2016 compared to 2015.

A similar decline was recorded from a MIKE site in Kenya, the CITES report revealed.

In Southern Africa, Botswana still maintains by far the largest elephant population of any country in Africa.

Elephant numbers in Namibia and South Africa have also increased, according to this latest data.

Loss in Central Africa

The news is not so positive for Central Africa where the dramatic decline of elephants populations has been reported over the last 10 years while poaching levels remain very high.

It is estimated by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the population of African elephants declined by 111,000 over the past 10 years.

The overall trends in the poaching of African elephants show that the sharp increase in the levels of illegal killing of elephants witnessed since 2006, and peaking in 2011, was first halted, then stabilised, and is now on decline.

In contrast with the gradual downward trend of elephant poaching observed since 2011 by MIKE, the Elephant Trade Information Systems (ETIS) analysis shows that 2016, when nearly 40 tonnes of ivory were seized, is the year in which the greatest number of illegal ivory seizures was reported.

The overall weight of ivory seized in illegal trade is now nearly three times greater than what was observed in 2007.

“The upward trend in the amount of illegal ivory seized as compared to the gradual downward trend observed for elephant poaching since 2011 may reflect a scaled up enforcement effort by customs and police and a more vigilant transport sector,” Mr Scanlon said.

“There could be time lags between poaching elephants and trafficking their ivory, or the entry into the illegal trade of ivory stockpiles.”

However, the spike in seizures of illegally traded ivory in 2016, he said, may also be an indication that ivory trafficking has been influenced by the prospect of greater controls, the imminent domestic ban in several countries and anticipation of continued drop of price.

As a result, he added, international syndicates behind this poaching and smuggling may be involved in a panic sell-off as they realize that speculating on extinction was a bad bet, with an ever increasing risk of getting caught.