Elephant poach­ing surges

But il­le­gal ivory trade ap­pears to have lev­elled off

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

A “TROU­BLING re­cent spike” is how a global elephant mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem has de­scribed the re­cent up­surge in the poach­ing of ele­phants in the Kruger Na­tional Park.

The warn­ing is sounded in a new re­port from Mon­i­tor­ing the Il­le­gal Killing of Ele­phants (Mike), a pro­gramme of the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

While elephant poach­ing ap­pears to have sta­bilised, ac­cord­ing to the re­port sub­mit­ted ahead of the up­com­ing Cites CoP17 con­fer­ence to be held in Jo­han­nes­burg in Septem­ber, poach­ing lev­els re­main high in some south­ern African sites, in­clud­ing the Ni­assa re­serve in Mozam­bique and the Kruger.

“The elephant pop­u­la­tion in Kruger is not in de­cline, but the sit­u­a­tion could change if cur­rent trends con­tinue... Along with Chobe ( Botswana) and Etosha ( Namibia), Kruger was un­til re­cently one of only three sites in Africa where the pro­por­tion of il­le­gally killed ele­phants (PIKE) had been con­sis­tently low since the start of the Mike mon­i­tor­ing in the early 2000s.”

Still, south­ern Africa con­tin­ued to “stand out” as the sub-re­gion where over­all poach­ing rates had re­mained con­sis­tently the low­est between 2006 and last year, a pe­riod marked by a surge in elephant poach­ing across the con­ti­nent.

Along with the Mike data, new data from the Elephant Trade In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem re­veals that while trad­ing in il­le­gal ivory reached its high­est lev­els in 2012 and 2013, it now ap­pears to have lev­elled off.

“The sharp up­ward trends in poach­ing, which started in 2006, have started to level off with con­ti­nen­tal lev­els of il­le­gal killing of ele­phants sta­bil­is­ing or slightly de­creas­ing. How­ever, the lev­els of poach­ing re­main far too high to al­low elephant pop­u­la­tions to re­cover, with some pop­u­la­tions fac­ing risk of lo­cal ex­tinc­tion.”

“Un­ac­cept­ably” high lev­els of poach­ing con­tin­ued to be recorded in Cen­tral and West Africa, where “high lev­els of il­le­gal killing con­tinue”, but had de­clined in East Africa.

While a study last month as­cribed the sharp rise in elephant poach­ing to Cites’s once-off le­gal ivory sale in 2007 to Ja­pan and China, the Mike data dis­putes this. “No ev­i­dence was found to sug­gest that il­le­gal killing of ele­phants in­creased or de­creased be­cause of the one-off ivory sales or the nine-year mora­to­rium,” its re­port states.

“If the de­ci­sions ap­prov­ing th­ese had any ef­fect on poach­ing lev­els, a dis­con­ti­nu­ity in the con­ti­nen­tal trend would have been ex­pected, but that ef­fect was not dis­cernible from the avail­able data.

The de­ci­sions as­so­ci­ated with the sales were spread over time, and the in­crease in poach­ing lev­els had be­come ap­par­ent be­fore the de­ci­sions were made.”

In­stead, the Mike re­port in­sists high poverty lev­els and coun­tries with poor gov­er­nance scores “ex­plain most of the spa­tial vari­a­tion in PIKE lev­els”. sheree.bega@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: AP

Ele­phants roam near Blan­tyre, Malawi.

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