Wildlife poachers claim lives of seven rangers in one week

Friday, May 25, 2007
Nairobi, Kenya
Seven wildlife rangers and at least four poachers were killed this past week throughout East and Central Africa during three separate shoot-outs. The tragic series of events unfolded last week when three Chadian rangers were shot dead in Zakouma National Park, an area notorious for its elephant poaching. The bloodshed continued through the weekend as three Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers and four poachers were slain in a gunfight in Kenya’s Tana River District. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, yet another wildlife ranger was killed.
News of these fatal attacks on those charged with protecting endangered wildlife is prescient given the upcoming 14th meeting of parties to the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Overstretched and under-resourced in efforts to protect their elephant populations, Kenya and Mali have submitted a proposal for a 20-year moratorium on all international trade in elephant ivory.
 
Thus far, 11 African nations are backing the 20-year moratorium, including Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as additional countries. (Currently, there is allowance under CITES law permitting some international ivory trade with special permissions from the CITES Secretariat.) These recent episodes lend further clout to the proposal, which in one argument suggests that enforcement authorities in many elephant range states are at capacity and are unable to handle the current levels of poaching.
 
In Kenya, the gang of poachers was en route to Tsavo East National Park (NP), KWS said, when they were ordered to stop, but instead opened fire. “The human sacrifice is widespread, and we need to act now to prevent future violence,” said Michael Wamithi, former Director of KWS and current global Elephants Program Manager for IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org), an organization currently funding a major restoration project at Tsavo NP. “In Kenya alone, since 1990, 23 rangers have died in the line of duty. At what point do we say enough is enough?”
 
Ironically, this weekend’s killings occurred whilst KWS and Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife convened the African Elephant Consultative Workshop in Nairobi. Participating nations joined together to strategize on the upcoming 14th meeting of parties to the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) which will begin June 3rd in The Hague.
 
Tsavo NP, Africa’s second largest park, is recognized worldwide for its important elephant populations. James Isiche, the East Africa Regional Director for IFAW said, “This tragic event is a prime example of the parallel effects of the rampant illegal international elephant ivory trade, responsible for the killing of an estimated 20,000 elephants annually, on human populations. The threat is real, both to humans and elephants, and most wildlife authorities in elephant ranges states are forced to grapple with this challenge.”
 
“The ivory trade and the violence amongst humans that it perpetuates will continue to flourish if elephants are not protected to the fullest under CITES,” says Wamithi. “A ban on all ivory trade is the only way to work towards protecting both elephants and human populations,” he added.
 
Over 26 tonnes (29 tons) of elephant ivory was seized between August 2005 and August 2006, which is the highest annual seizure rate witnessed since the 1989 CITES ban went into effect. In addition, enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 per cent of contraband slips through controls undetected.

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