World Wildlife Day, an event established by the United Nations in December 2013 in honor of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aims to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The theme for this year, ‘The future of wildlife is in our hands’ focuses on the African and Asian elephant, a species that typifies criminality against wild animals.
The figures speak for themselves: There were 470,000 elephants living in the wild in 2013, according to figures presented in 2015; there were 1.2 million in 1980 and 20 million at the beginning of the 20th century.
More elephants are dying on the continent than are being born as the gestation period for an elephant is 20 to 22 months. East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania have marked the strongest decline in this species. Latest reports out in 2015 show that in Tanzania their population fell by 63 percent in five years. Last year, more than 20 percent of the elephants in central Mali were killed, according to the UN and NGOs.
If nothing is done, in just a few decades there will be no more elephants in Africa. Some 25,000 to 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa. In the period from 2010 to 2012 alone, 100,000 elephants were killed, mainly by poachers supplying illegal ivory traders. The international ivory trade, which generates huge revenues and encourages poaching, is principally fueled by demand from Asia.
According to the NGO, ‘Save the Elephant’, the price of ivory, which per ounce is costlier than gold, tripled on the Asian markets from 2010 to 2014. Ivory is highly prized in Asia, where demand is driving the illegal trade. Carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.
In March 2015 alone, authorities in Kenya and Ethiopia burned over 20 tonnes of confiscated tusks worth over US$40 million. Also, from January to October 2015, a huge Interpol operation, Operation Worthy II, mobilized the police services of 11 African countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – which led to more than 200 arrests and the seizure of nearly two tonnes of contraband ivory. But all this has not made a dent in the demand for ivory in Asia and hence for poaching.
Many African nations are now calling for a moratorium of “at least ten years on all ivory sales to allow time for our elephant populations to stabilize." The question is will the world heed this call.