Delegates come together to work out plan of action to protect their elephants

The African Elephant Coalition members are determined to achieve a better future for elephants.Ouagadougou, is a place not many people would have heard of before. At first sight one may even struggle to know how to pronounce it. This was the case for me when I heard I was to travel to this mysterious land to advocate for the protection of elephants (for those of you like me who do not know how to pronounce it, it is waga-du-gu).

Ouagadougou, or Ouaga (waga) as the locals fondly call it, is the capital city of Burkina Faso, a relatively small landlocked African country about the size of Hungary, surrounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. It is home to West Africa’s largest population of elephants.

Ouaga also has one other claim to fame in the elephant world. It was the site of the fifth meeting of the African Elephant Coalition, an organisation that counts 25 elephant range states among its members. The event, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding among the member governments, signaled to the world that they would not stand idly by whilst their shared natural heritage is destroyed.

The meeting was held against the backdrop of widespread and growing threats to elephants. Since the last meeting in 2010, we have seen year-on-year record numbers of elephants killed for their ivory. 2011 was the worst year on record, and 2012 was close behind.

This stark reality was set out by the delegates at the start of the meeting, when they cited the number of elephants killed in each of their countries. This included a report on the tragic killing of over 500 elephants in just a few weeks in Cameroon earlier this year, and a report from Chad revealing that elephant numbers in Zakouma National Park were down from over 4,000 in 2006 to 1,000 today. Kenya alone arrested more than 1,600 poachers in the month before the conference, in a war that has seen 250 elephants poached in Kenya so far this year.

It was made clear by the delegates, many who have experience on the front line in the field, that elephants weren’t the only ones being killed. The rangers who were tasked with protecting this precious species are also losing their lives to organised, well-armed and ruthless criminal gangs. And that was the crux of it. African countries are on the front line of a global war, in which the future of our wildlife and security of the region is at stake.

And so, with the carnage all around them, these delegates had come together to work out a plan of action to protect their elephants to ensure that the death of these unsung heroes was not in vain.

The meeting set a clear framework for action and established an MoU between the governments establishing the AEC as an official body.

The African Elephant Coalition members are determined to achieve a secure, safer, long-term future for their magnificent elephants and are appealing for international support at every level. It is calling on developed countries and individuals to make a pledge to the African Elephant Fund today.

Experts attending the meeting, which was opened by Pr. Jean Koulidiati, the Hon. Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development for Burkina Faso, pledged to work together to combat this crime not only on the ground, but at the political level to ensure that they were provided with enough resources.

They also agreed that reducing the seemingly insatiable demand for illegal ivory in countries such as China is essential and agreed to work with China to try and reduce this demand.

Finally, by signing the MoU, they succeeded in raising this issue to the highest political level. This was made apparent a few days later, when the biennial AMCEN meeting saw poaching discussed between all the environment ministers on the continent of Africa.

--SS

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia