During an inspection of the luggage of two South Africans last month, officials in Chinese-ruled Macau found 15 suspiciously heavy boxes of chocolate. The boxes appeared to be pieces of elephant tusks with an estimated market value of more than $76,000 U.S. dollars. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), from September to December 2012, more than 90 ivory seals were found hidden in chocolate packages being sent from South Africa to Taiwan. Apparently ivory smugglers are getting more inventive. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the ivory trade in 1989, but a black market for elephant tusks still thrives, largely fueled by a demand in Asia.

According to a new report entitled “Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis”, increasing poaching levels, as well as loss of habitat are threatening the survival of African elephant populations in Central Africa as well as previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa. “This report provides clear evidence that adequate human and financial resources, the sharing of know-how, raising public awareness in consumer countries, and strong law enforcement must all be in place if we are to curb the disturbing rise in poaching and illegal trade," says John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES.

Male elephant Sth. Lwuangua, ZambiaThe Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora was concluded on 3 March 1973. It entered into force after ratification or accession by 10 States, on 1 July 1975. Since then, the number of countries that have ratified, approved, accepted or acceded to the Convention has continued to increase. With 178 Parties, CITES is widely regarded as one of the most important international conservation instruments. During its 16th meeting in Bangkok (2013), the Conference of the Parties to CITES outlined in a new Strategic Vision 2008-2020 the Convention’s direction in the new millennium and took into account, within the context of its mandate, issues such as (amongst other goals):

  • contributing to the conservation of wildlife as an integral part of the global ecosystem on which all life depends;
  • ensuring that a coherent and internationally agreed approach based on scientific evidence is taken to address any species of wild fauna and flora subject to unsustainable international trade.

 In an article in The Washington Post (15 March 2013) Max Fisher starts with an overview of the global trade in ivory and focuses later on on the situation in North America. On 1 July 2013, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, issued an Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The Executive Order addresses both its domestic and international response to the current surge in wildlife trafficking. The United States is also working with the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) and other interested partners to support the creation of a global network of regional and national Wildlife Enforcement Networks to improve communication and strengthen response actions across enforcement agencies globally.

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has received National Ivory Action Plans from the first group of countries identified as primary source, transit and import countries affected by illegal trade in ivory: China, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam.

Male elephant, picture by R.RidderhofAnother success in the fight against illegal ivory trafficking is the arrest of  a suspected Togolese ivory smuggler, Emile Edouwodzi N'bouke. It was the first such operation in a country that has recently emerged as a main transit point for ivory bound for Asia and other markets. N'Bouke's capture could shed considerable light on international ivory networks.

The illegal trafficking in ivory and other wildlife products will be a key topic of discussion during the INTERPOL Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Event 2013 in November in Nairobi, Kenya.

Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova and CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon emphasize in their statement that to fight against the rise of poaching, the international community must increase its efforts on several levels. In their words: "Elephants play a vital role in the preservation of the (Central) African environment: they enable the reproduction of many tropical tree species, and are the “gardeners” of the ecosystems in which they live in harmony with local communities. Biodiversity is as vital for nature as cultural diversity is for humankind. By emptying forests of the animals that inhabit them, poaching is transforming vibrant, living forests into deserted spaces which, in turn, causes immeasurable damage."


Pictures of elephants in South Luangua National Park, Zambia by R.J.W. Ridderhof

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