- According to a new analysis by leading environmentalists, the main problem areas of illicit ivory trade are West and in particular Central Africa, not Zambia and Tanzania, which are struggling to obtain a one-time permit to legally sell ivory stocks.
Detailed regional summaries of the data held in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the world's largest database on ivory seizures, highlight the failure of law enforcement in key elephant range states facing an increasing threat from organised crime and the presence of unregulated markets.
The re-analysis of these data clearly points to West and Central Africa as the main source of concern. "Urgent law enforcement action by governments in Central and West Africa and South-east Asia is crucial to addressing the illicit ivory trade," according to the new analysis of elephant trade data.
"It is clearer than ever that governance shortfalls and weak enforcement allow illicit ivory trade to go unchecked in West and Central Africa and in South-East Asia, where large domestic ivory markets openly sell ivory illegally," said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, who undertook the ETIS analysis.
"If there was adequate political will, a commitment to law enforcement would shut down the illegal markets and check corruption. That is not happening," Mr Milliken said.
ETIS is compiled by TRAFFIC on behalf of CITES, and comprises more than 15,400 ivory seizure cases compiled over the last 21 years. The re-analysis of the data was made by region rather than by country, clearly showing that the Central African region is losing the most elephants.
"Until this strengthened law enforcement happens, ivory will continue to leak out of Africa," commented Elisabeth McLellan of the environmentalist group WWF International. "We are not talking small-time smugglers here, we're talking hardened, organized criminal gangs," she added.
These scientifically gathered data - presented as 175 governments meet in Qatar for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to consider ivory trade issues - stand against widely publicised allegations by other environmentalists, claiming "corruption" in Zambia and Tanzania made these two states the main source of illegally traded ivory on Asian markets.
Zambia and Tanzania, both having large elephant populations and a tourism industry depending on wildlife, claim to have large stockpiles of ivory that stem from animals that had died naturally or were culled to thin herds as part of recognised management schemes.
The two governments have asked CITES to consider a one-off legal sale of these stockpiles, holding that such sales have been permitted other Southern African countries managing their elephant populations well on earlier occasions. Tanzania has earmarked revenues from the ivory sales - expected to reach US$ 46 million - "for protection of natural resources, an undertaking which needs a lot of money," according to Tanzanian Natural Resources Minister Shamsa Mwangunga.
The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have been given one-time permissions by CITES to sell off stockpiles.
Zambia's and Tanzania's bid has however met great resistance, with Kenya now urging for the total ivory sales ban to be uphold. 23 African nations back the Kenyan proposal of a total ban, including Namibia and Botswana. The Kenyan proposal calls for a 20-year moratorium on ivory trading, with no one-off sale windows before 2030, in a bid to stop poaching and illegal trade.
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