Criminals, Corruption And Tanzania’s Vanishing Elephants

East Africa Raided For Its Ivory

By Environmental Investigation Agency

The survival of African elephants hangs in the balance as a surge in poaching consumes the continent. Both sub-species of African elephants, the forest elephant and the savanna elephant, are facing precipitous population declines and a real threat of extermination. While more than 1.3 million elephants roamed Africa in 1979, today the population is estimated to be as low as 419,000.

elephant conservation Tanzania

In 2011 alone, 25,000 African elephants were reportedly killed, with 22,000 recorded in 2012. Such figures are estimates and the true scale of the carnage is likely to be worse. For example, other estimates put the number of elephants killed in 2011 at 40,000. Escalating poaching now poses a direct threat to the survival of elephant populations as killing rates exceed birth rates, raising fears of virtual extinction in the next decade.

This level of killing has not been seen since the 1980s, when a wave of elephant poaching spread across Africa prompting the adoption of a ban on international commercial trade in ivory in 1989 under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) by listing African elephants on CITES Appendix I. Although the ban relieved the pressure and key elephant populations began recovering, it was soon undermined.

elephant conservation Africa

In 1997, the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were downlisted to CITES Appendix II and an “experimental” sale of nearly 50 tons of ivory from these African countries to Japan occurred in April 1999. This was followed by a further sale of
102 tons of ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to China and Japan in late 2008. Further, CITES Parties are currently discussing a “decision-making mechanism for future trade in ivory” that could potentially enable regular trade in ivory. This is taking place despite an ongoing elephant poaching crisis in Africa.

Currently, two CITES-mandated systems exist to monitor levels of poaching and illicit trade in ivory – the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) system and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). Both document alarming increases, especially
since 2006 and with a major surge from 2011. In 2011, the MIKE system recorded the highest poaching level since systematic monitoring began a decade earlier. Figures showed 7.4 percent of elephant populations at the monitoring sites killed illegally, a total of 17,000 elephants compared with 11,500 in 2010. A scientific study published in August 2014 analyzed data collected by MIKE and found that during the past decade, the proportion of
illegally killed elephants has climbed from 25 percent to 60-70 percent.

The Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) index measures the volume of  elephant carcasses due to illegal killing. The index ranges from 0.0 showing no illegal killing to 1.0, where all carcasses were illegally killed. The highest poaching rate is found in
Central Africa, with a PIKE level of 0.9. This is confirmed by studies revealing that forest elephants in central Africa have declined by over 65 percent between 2002-13.9 In East Africa, the PIKE level has tripled from 0.2 to 0.6 between 2006-11. For example, more
than 60 percent of elephant carcasses found at MIKE monitoring sites in Kenya had been illegally killed.

illegal ivory trade and elephant extinction

Unsurprisingly, data showing increased poaching levels is mirrored by surging illicit trade in ivory. According to ETIS figures, the illegal ivory trade has grown three-fold since 1998. The surge has been especially pronounced since the period 2011-13, with record levels of
ivory (116 tons) seized during this time. ETIS data also reveals the emergence of
East Africa as the biggest source region of illegal ivory, especially Kenya and Tanzania. Between 2009-11, these two countries were the exporters of 16 out of 34 large scale ivory seizures (weighing 500kg or more) recorded worldwide, amounting to 35 tons. In total, …

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