African elephant makes appearance at opening day of international wildlife trade conference

Sunday, June 3, 2007
The Hague, Netherlands
A life-sized, nine-foot African elephant dubbed “Mjumbe,” Swahili for “ambassador,” made a grand entrance today at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), to highlight the thousands of elephants that are killed each year to fuel the illegal ivory trade.
Mjumbe was made in Kenya from confiscated wire snares, and designed by famed Kenyan metal sculptor, Kioko. IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) commissioned the sculpture as part of its global elephant protection campaign. Mjumbe was unveiled today by Michael Wamithi, IFAW Elephant Program Manager and former Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) director; as well as Bourama Niagate, Elephant Management Coordinator in Mali; and Abakar Zougoulou, Head of Wildlife Management for Chad.
 
Kenya and Mali have proposed a CITES resolution for a 20-year moratorium on ivory trade arguing that one-off ivory sales in select countries opens up markets, both legal and illegal, and lures poachers.
 
“The 20-year ivory trade moratorium is urgently needed to protect elephants from the increased threat of poaching to fuel the deadly ivory trade,” said Niagate. “Many African nations are urging CITES members to support this critical resolution. Without it, countries like Mali could lose their elephants forever to the ivory trade.”
 
“The only way to protect elephants is to halt all ivory trade, legal or illegal,” said Wamithi. “This moratorium will give everyone time to strengthen elephant protection and law enforcement and also ensure that effective mechanisms for detecting illegal killing of elephants are in place,” he said.
 
In the face of overwhelming support for Kenya and Mali’s proposed 20-year ban on all ivory trade, which is being backed by 11 African elephant range countries as well as various other nations, many Southern African countries have been flooding the media with misleading reports of overabundance and booming populations.  “The public cannot be fooled,” Jason Bell-Leaske, IFAW’s Southern Africa Regional Director, and advocate for the moratorium. “Various national polls confirm that the majority of US and European citizens overwhelmingly endorse the moratorium, and are clearly on the elephants’ side.  We just hope that these nations’ delegates represent this public demand this year at CITES.”
 
There is also no way to disguise the deaths of seven wildlife rangers, lost in three separate shoot-outs with poachers during just one week in May. However, southern African nations are intent on shifting the world’s focus before the upcoming meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP), set to begin June 3rd in The Hague, wherein the decision on the ban will be made.
 
Following a year of rampant trade in elephant ivory, with over 26 tonnes (29 tons) seized between August 2005 and August 2006, nations such as Zimbabwe and Botswana, which support proposals to down list their elephants, are scrambling to divert attention to perceived overpopulations.
 
“Since the 1989 ban on international ivory trade was amended to allow certain ivory stockpile sales with special permissions from CITES in 1997, we have seen poaching and illicit trade increase to the point of threatening some of the last remaining populations of Africa’s elephants, not to mention the Asian elephant. We must take action before it is too late,” adds Bell-Leaske.
 
Between 1979 and 1989, the total population of African elephants in sub-Saharan Africa dropped from 1.3 million to around 450,000, a loss of over 50 per cent. While habitat loss and human encroachment have historically imposed the largest impact, today, the poaching of elephants for their ivory presents the gravest threat.
 
The myth of there being “too many elephants” is thriving in southern Africa.  New research is, however, paving a new path for an ecologically intelligent approach to understanding how elephants interact in their environments. “Gone are the days of talking about absolute numbers in these large populations in southern Africa.  The focus is now on understanding where and why elephants move and use their range.  It is not only irresponsible for southern African countries to bring arguments of overabundance into the fray, it is totally fallacious”, added Bell-Leaske.
 
In addition to the tonnage of ivory confiscations this past year, enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 percent of contraband slips through controls undetected.

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