Togo and DRC: Conservation battles on two sides of a continent


The fight to save elephants and an endangered national park goes a notch higher, with encouraging results.

The small West African nation of Togo is taking its fight against poaching to a new level, employing high-tech tactics to combat the threat to the region’s African elephants.  The Togolese authorities will now be carrying out DNA testing on seized tusks, which will determine the origin and age of contraband tusks with the aim of exposing those at the centre of the illegal trade.  

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in West Africa less than 2% of the continent’s known elephants exist. This is worrying considering that over a period of just six months, between August 2013 and January 2014, Togo confiscated 4.5 tonnes of ivory. 

This led to the arrest of 18 individuals including ivory “king-pin” Emile N’Bouke, a Togo national arrested with over 700kg of ivory. He is currently on trial in the capital alongside three other suspected traffickers. 

After conducting DNA tests on a consignment of 200 of these seized tusks, the first results indicated that the ivory came largely from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia as well as Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

This supports a recent report by IUCN that suggests that within Africa, the criminal syndicates responsible for the illegal trade appear to be adapting, with exploratory shifts to new countries like Togo as exit points within Africa. 

Togo has stepped up its efforts in putting an end to poaching in the region with new stringent export controls. All containers leaving the port are scanned closely and spot-checks are also carried out in shops in the country’s major cities. 

The results from the DNA tests will be shared as another key element in driving the anti-poaching campaign in West Africa. 

Meanwhile in Central Africa a conservation battle appears to have been won. The environmental campaigners, World Wildlife Fund, have forced a UK oil company to leave the Virunga National Park in a conservation push-and-shove that also protects one of Africa’s other endangered giants – the gorilla.  

In a joint statement with WWF, the oil exploration firm Soco announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to halt its hunt for oil in part of Africa’s oldest national parks, “unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status”. 

In the statement the WWF agreed that it would in turn pledge not to pursue a complaint against Soco that it had filed with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.  

Soco caused international outrage when it was given permission to conduct seismic testing in one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse conservation areas, threatening to create Africa’s newest oil fields in its oldest park. 

In April, despite objections from local fishermen, the UK government, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and 675,000 WWF supporters, the oil company started testing in Virunga.

Some high profile figures, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and millionaire philanthropist Howard G. Buffett, also joined the campaign, stating that irresponsible resource extraction in the unstable region could threaten vulnerable populations and critically endangered wildlife.  

WWF’s greatest concerns were that oil exploration would have serious negative impacts on wildlife, habitats and people: From the initial aerial surveys, to road building, pipeline-laying, and the potential oil spills and pollution of land and water.

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