World must protect African Wildlife Heritage

Black & White Photos : Nick Brandt
African Elephant: Nick Brandt

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has opened its doors on Sunday in Bangkok.

CITES was first formed in the 1970s, bringing the total number of member states to 178 with the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of the Maldives and the Lebanese Republic joining today. Eritrea became a member state in January 1995.

During the opening ceremony the director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that environmental crime is hitting the headlines in 2013, especially in respect to elephants and rhinos in Africa. He referred to the UNEP Annual Yearbook which spotlights emerging issues requiring the attention of governments.

According to the report, when populations of elephants decline by over six per cent annually, that population is vulnerable to collapse—in many parts of Africa right now the killing of elephants for ivory is running at 11 or 12 per cent of those populations.

Illegal killing of large numbers of elephants is increasingly involving organized criminal groups and sometimes well-armed militias. For example, up to 450 elephants were killed in Cameroon in early 2012. Poached ivory is believed to be exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region.

The UNEP Year Book, supported by data from CITES indicates that the number of elephants that were killed in 2012, ran, as in 2011, into the tens of thousands. Meanwhile a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone last year according to the report.

Big Life Foundation, another organization that seeks to conserve and protect wildlife in East Africa, says that demand for ivory from Far Eastern countries and China has massively increased since 2008.

Ivory prices have soared from $200 a pound in 2004 to more than $2,000 a pound today. Some experts estimate that as much as 35,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa’s elephant population each year alone.

The organization says that powdered rhino horn is now more expensive than gold due to demand from in China – and more recently Vietnam. In the Far East myths about the alleged medicinal properties of rhino horn such as a cure for hangovers and a treatment for cancer fuel a never ending consumption of elephant and rhino horns.

Africa should speak determined and with one voice at the convention to preserve Africa’s animal heritage. Kenya and South Africa for example have agreed to vote as a bloc for the protection of  African wildlife.  Kenya has proposed five amendments to international wildlife conservation treaties in the wake of increased poaching of elephants, rhinos and cheetahs.

Kenya proposes that only white rhinoceros from Swaziland and South Africa should be allowed to participate in international trade in live animals. All other species of rhinoceros should be included in Appendix I, which lists species of animals and plants that are threatened with extinction.

Kenya has proposed that no application for ivory trade will be submitted during the life of the existing moratorium, which ends in 2017. The proposal is jointly submitted with Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Togo and Mali.

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By Kebreab Gebre