Why elephants are very hot and could soon be history in Africa; a tragic tale

The annual black market value of ivory trade is worth more than gold and cocaine.

Elephants are presently a hot topic in the world. Hot enough to force the Chinese government to burn ivory and items made from elephant tusks at 1,800 degree Fahrenheit. Hot enough for the United States of America to destroy six tonnes of jewelry made from ivory, unprocessed elephant tusks and other ornaments created from elephant tusks. Hot enough for a trail of meetings, conferences and seminars on the subject from Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Australia. 

But the hottest point of this elephant talk is Africa, and deservedly, it ought to be so. It should be so. 

Here is why elephant talk in the continent should be the loudest in the world:

Annual value of ivory trade in the world (black market value)

Estimated at $10 billion annually.  
Worth more than gold and cocaine on the shadowy world of black market trade.

Countries in Africa with significant elephant numbers
Thirty-seven African countries have elephants.  The population of elephants is however high in southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa.  Here are some of the countries with significant numbers:

South Africa
Democratic Republic of Congo
Central Africa Republic

Approximately 470,000 elephants remain in Africa today.
This number is killed (through poaching) at the rate of 8% annually.
If this rate stays as it is today, elephants will not last the next 10 years in their natural habitat.

Reasons driving elephant poaching and trade in different African regions

East Africa:

Available market and high demand for ivory products in the world.  
The high price of ivory.
Poaching is considered a low risk-high return crime.
Weaknesses in the prosecutorial chains/ lack of deterrent laws.
Inadequate resources for the law enforcement agencies to protect elephants.
Corruption in some of the institutions charged with protecting elephants.
Instability within the region/ proliferation of arms.

Francophone Africa and Southern Africa
The Asian appetite for ‘white gold’ (especially China).
The existence of a legal domestic ivory market in China where poachers can launder their illegal ivory.
Very low law enforcement capacity in source countries.
Armed conflicts.
The settlement of Chinese nationals at source of the commercial trade chain.
Poverty among the populations living in source areas.
General corruption within these regions.

Are there links between these regions?

Most of the time, the market for the ivory/ tusks is a common one.
Poaching itself is run by a well-organised crime network that operates within different parts of the continent. For instance, currently, large scale elephant poaching in Central African countries like Chad, CAR or Cameroon is run by gangs of poachers coming from Sudan, some believed to be pro-government Janjaweed militia.

East Africa is a conduit and exit point, for the landlocked inland countries. Between East Africa and Central Africa, the link is in the sea/ ocean ports. Some ivory from countries like DRC pass through the Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa and Tanzania. Between January and October 2013, over 10 tonnes of ivory were seized at the port of Mombasa.  Southern Africa also serves as an exit point.

Who are involved in killing, poaching and trade of ivory in Africa?

Farmers (human-elephant conflict).  
Armed militia men and guerilla fighters.
Wildlife rangers.
Asian crime syndicates- mainly as facilitators in transporting the products.

Trafficking routes

Once the elephants have been killed and their tusks harvested, they are transported via motor bikes for quick escape, then speed boats and canoes to transport the trophies to pirate ships in the high seas. In southern Africa, helicopters are sometimes used.

Countries that are known for acting as trafficking routes: 
Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Somalia, Togo and Ethiopia.

External conduits include: 
Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and United Arabs Emirates

Destination/ market countries
From Africa, the ivory normally ends up in:
Thailand, China/ Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, U.S.A and Japan

View on the future:

“In Francophone Africa, and I think the rest of Africa, as long as ivory markets will exist, elephants will be slaughtered. Corruption, low capacity for enforcing laws and poverty will always ensure that poachers find a way.”
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu
Director France and Francophone Africa
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Sources of information and data: African Wildlife Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Kenya Wildlife Service.


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