New poaching threat to SA elephants

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It’s only a matter of time before poachers turn their guns on South Africa’s large elephant population after they decimate thousands of the majestic animals in other parts of the continent.

This is the warning from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), which has expressed concern that South Africa was “kind of losing focus” over the crisis facing Africa’s elephants as its attention was devoted to the scourge of rhino poaching.

“There’s no reason to think it won’t happen (in SA) although the poaching crisis might not have reached SA yet,” said Adrian Hiel, of Ifaw in the EU.

“But we believe it’s only a matter of time before these elephants are targeted for their ivory for markets in the Far East.

“You look at the vast majority of elephants – at least half of them are in Botswana and SA… the poachers are going after those elephants (that) are easier to get first in countries such as Cameroon, Chad and the Congo, which don’t have the resources to protect them. But as the elephant numbers are reduced in West and Central Africa, they are not the easy ticket any more. The next elephant populations to get will be in the Okavango and the Kruger National Park.”

SA and Botswana’s advantage was that they were well-resourced.

“Right now the elephant poaching crisis we’re seeing – this huge increase in trafficking – doesn’t seem to be decimating southern Africa’s elephants, but it’s only a matter of time. If that’s where the elephants are, that’s where the poachers will go. That’s what we’ve seen happening with rhino.”

This week a new report published by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) showed that elephant poaching levels were at their worst in a decade, while recorded ivory seizures were at their highest levels since 1989.

The report found that three of the five years in which the greatest volumes of ivory were seized globally happened in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with “tens of thousands” of elephants poached last year.

Cites said the levels of illegal killing across the entire African elephant range was of serious concern. “The rise in levels of illegal killing and the dynamics surrounding it are worrying, not only for small and fragmented elephant populations that could face extirpation, but also for previously secure large populations.”

Ken Maggs, the head of the environmental and crime investigation unit at the Kruger, recently stated that there was concern that rhino poachers could shift their attention to elephants in the park, given the scale of elephant poaching in Central Africa.

Tom Milliken, of Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said evidence was steadily mounting that Africa’s elephants were facing their most serious crisis since international commercial trade in ivory was forbidden under Cites in 1989.

The report showed how last year alone there were 14 large-scale ivory seizures, which represented a double-digit figure for the first time in 23 years. This totalled an estimated 24.3 tons of ivory, more than in any previous year.

Ifaw warned that SA could be the “new thread in the ivory web” and that the interception of several large consignments of illegal ivory shipped from Cape Town could make it “the latest illicit transit point for illegal ivory”. -Saturday Star

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