The recent update from the Great Elephant Census (GEC), which has been underway across the African continent over the past two years paints a doom and gloom picture for the future of Africa’s elephants.
The census has recently released a report suggesting that, in the seven year period between 2007 and 2014, Africa’s elephant population has plummeted by 30%, representing a loss of approximately 144,000 elephants. If the current trend continues, we could see the population down to 160,000 by 2025.
This is alarming. We have been apprehensively awaiting the results of this survey, knowing that close to 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in the period 2010-2012, this despite the international attention focused on the crisis and heightened enforcement efforts in many African elephant range States.
Elephants have reached the tipping point and the next 5 years are critical if we want to turn this around.
So how do we go about doing this? There are many things that need to be done, but I offer three urgent measures for consideration right now. Firstly, we need to ensure that resources are directed in the right way.
A lot of money has been made available through the donor community to address poaching and trafficking but there is also a lot of competition for resources and different views of what the priorities are. If we don’t see a greatly improved coordination of the deployment of resources to address the problem, continent-wide, we will continue to lose the battle. Secondly, we have to stop toying with idea of renewed legal sales of ivory through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Both Namibia and Zimbabwe have put forward proposals to the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES, to be held in Johannesburg in September, to deregulate the ivory trade to allow for quota sales to Asian markets. This has to stop. It continues to send the wrong signals to consumers and undermine on-the-ground efforts to combat poaching.
The only message any potential consumer should get right now is that it is illegal to purchase ivory. And lastly, we must ensure that all efforts to address poaching, at any scale, are not only focused on keeping poachers out of parks, but on building a network of communities to combat and defeat the criminal networks.
Counter-poaching efforts just simply have to become more sophisticated in collecting and analysing critical information to help enforcement agencies get ahead of the kill (tenBoma link here).
It can no longer be about just the poacher or the trafficker, it has to be about the unravelling the organised criminal syndicates involved in wildlife crime. The success will be in where the bottom-up meets the top-down in the war on poaching. But it is a war and we all have to rally if we want to see elephants come out on top.