Spotlight Europe: East meets East to find common ground in the fight to protect elephants

A youngster feeding in Amboseli Park, Kenya. c. IFAW/K. BrannonThis week International Fund for Animal Welfare staff participated in a unique event bringing together government officials from East and Central Europe and countries in East Africa.

The goal was to learn about efforts to protect elephants from poaching and illegal ivory trade and to define common ground through the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Interactions of this kind between seemingly-unrelated countries are vital to ensuring the protection of elephants in the long term.

The event took place in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. Tsavo is the largest park in Kenya and home to approximately 12,570 elephants (2011), about one third of all the elephants in the country.

This makes the Tsavo ecosystem a major hotspot for elephant protection in East Africa. 

Across the continent elephants are being poached for their ivory at an alarming rate, and unfortunately Tsavo is not spared.

During the workshop we received the news that four elephants in the park were found dead and their tusks removed. This incident brings the number of elephants killed this year in Tsavo to 15. The number could well be higher given that most cases, which occur in ranches, are never reported.

The delegations from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine were mostly made up of officials responsible for implementing CITES regulations.

The representatives had the opportunity to gain a keen understanding of the challenges the Kenya Wildlife Service and regional wildlife enforcement agencies face in their efforts to stop the slaughter of elephants for profit.

The Kenyan and Ugandan representatives spoke passionatly about their country’s elephant populations which are seen as a natural heritage, not only for Africans but for all people around the world.

These countries use huge amounts of capacity and financial resources to implement robust strategies to stop poaching, as well as to protect habitat, reduce human-elephant conflict, and assist communities in gaining economic benefit from elephant conservation.

In the effort to stamp out the poaching elephants need all the friends they can get.

European and other countries bear responsibility for their protection. The East and Central European nations often hold a critical position in CITES decision making within the European Union and globally.

And the fact is that no country, especially developing countries, can combat the organized criminal networks that engage in poaching and illegal ivory trade worldwide without assistance from more developed and like-minded countries.

I am hopeful that key relationships between East African and Eastern and Central European countries are now established.

--Rikkert Reijnen

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