- According to a new report, there is more illegal ivory than elephants in West Africa's main ivory trading countries, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria. The ivory probably stems from elephant poaching in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Gabon.
A new report launched yesterday by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and by environmentalist group WWF disclosed an unsustainable and illegal ivory trade in Western Africa. It further indicated the existence of a larger regional ivory trade network.
Undercover investigators from the two groups had visited 9 cities in Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal to map the trade. They found more than 4000 kg of ivory on public display - a volume that represents the ivory of more than 760 elephants.
According to recent data from the world nature conservation organisation IUCN, however, there may not be any more than 543 elephants in these three countries. The investigation therefore seems to have discovered an international trade in ivory, which is illegal.
- These studies show just a snapshot of the problem, said Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa and co-author of the report. "When we factor in all of the uncontrolled manufacturing, buying and selling over a year, these numbers climb to frightening dimensions," he added.
The report 'More Ivory than Elephants: Domestic Ivory Markets in Three West African Countries' further highlights that these unregulated markets are the principal forces driving elephant poaching. Elephant hunting is not allowed in any West and Central Africa country due to the low remaining elephant populations.
Much of the ivory found on sale came from war-torn Congo Kinshasa ((DRC), Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Gabon, the report concludes. "These countries make up Africa's most troubled region for elephant conservation," according to WWF.
Vendors and shop personnel themselves had indicated these countries of origin. Among the vendors in Côte d'Ivoire, Congo Kinshasa was often cited as the most important source of raw ivory and the few large tusks seen during the survey were all identified as Congolese.
In Senegal, most ivory on the markets had been carved in other West African countries. The vast majority of imported carvings had come from Côte d'Ivoire, but the survey also disclosed there was an ivory carving industry in Guinea and Cameroon. Cameroon further was mentioned as the Senegalese market's largest supplier of raw ivory.
For the Nigerian ivory industry, the main source of raw material also was said to be Congo Kinshasa, followed by the Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Cameroon and even Chad. On Nigerian markets, also a number of other imported wildlife products were found for sale. Most notable amongst the items seen were a horn from a black rhinoceros.
In Côte d'Ivoire, also a very limited volume of raw ivory appeared to be coming from within the country from both poached elephants and from private stocks. Also in Nigeria, there was a very limited quantity of ivory entering the market from "elephants killed legally and illegally" within the country. No indigenous Senegalese sources of ivory were mentioned.
According to interviews made with the traders, the principal buyers of this illegal ivory were said to be "ex-patriates, tourists and business people from Europe (France and Italy), the Far East (China and Korea), the United States, and even diplomatic staff in some instances."
The report also concluded that inadequate legislation and poor law enforcement in Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal were threatening the survival of elephants in these countries and in neighbouring countries of Western and Central Africa.
All three governments were found to be in breach of ivory market control requirements under international regulations governing the trade in endangered wildlife species (CITES). Furthermore, the wildlife authorities responsible for implementing CITES were "systematically barred from the ports of entry and exit," the report said.
- Not only is there a lack of political will to implement CITES, allowing traders to act with immunity from prosecution, corruption is preventing effective controls on the ivory trade, said Susan Lieberman of WWF. "It is time that Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal took concrete steps to effectively implement CITES in their countries," she added.
The report says that the investigators had found the situation in Nigeria to be "the most alarming." Here, higher volumes of ivory had been identified than in a previous undercover survey carried out in 1999. Nigeria is already facing possible sanctions under CITES because of concerns about its ivory trade.
If Nigeria fails to comply with CITES requirements to regulate internal trade in ivory by March 2004, it could find that all legal trade in CITES listed wildlife species to and from the country is suspended. TRAFFIC and WWF urged the Nigerian, Ivorian and Senegalese governments "to take urgent and positive action to bring the domestic ivory trade under control."
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