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Ivory burn challenges elephant poaching crisis

27 June 2012

We welcome today’s news that the central African state of Gabon has burnt its government-held ivory stockpile - the first state in the region to do so.

Ivory being burnt in Gabon, preventing it reaching the illegal trade

This is a quantity of ivory which roughly corresponds to 850 elephants.

We believe this is a strong signal of intent by Gabon against poaching and illegal wildlife trade - at a time of intense poaching pressure in central Africa, where the illegal killing of elephants for ivory is at record levels.

Positive step against wildlife crime

WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, have worked with Gabon to independently audit its government-owned ivory stockpile before any is destroyed, to ensure that all tusks are accounted for and none has leaked into illegal trade.

“Gabon has a policy of zero tolerance for wildlife crime and we are putting in place the institutions and laws to ensure this policy is enforced,” said Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, who ignited the pyre in Cite de Democratie, Libreville.

The audited ivory stock totals 4,825 kilograms, including 1,293 piece of rough ivory mainly composed of tusks and 17,730 pieces of worked ivory.

“Ivory of illegal or unknown origin cannot be sold legally internationally for commercial purposes,” said WWF Central Africa Regional Programme Office representative, Stefanie Conrad. “Gabon has acted commendably in deciding to put such ivory beyond use.”

Worst year on record for elephant poaching

A report issued last week by the UN body that regulates the international wildlife trade found that 2011 was the worst year on record for elephant poaching in Africa.

It’s estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are being killed across Africa each year for their tusks, which are in demand in Asia.

“This is an international problem and Gabon is coming under siege by criminal gangs of hunters and crime syndicates that smuggle ivory to Asia,” said Professor Lee White, executive secretary of Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (Gabon’s National Parks Agency).

“Unless there is a strong international reaction to stop wildlife crime, and ivory smuggling in particular, the forests of Gabon will no longer vibrate with the rumble of the forest elephant.”

Challenging the ivory trade

“We need to break the illegal ivory trade chain,” said Suparna Biswas, country director of WWF-Gabon. “This time the decision has come from the top and should be an example to others. Many Central African ministries still proudly display pieces of worked ivory in their offices. Many government officials are implicated in illicit ivory trafficking. This must end.”

TRAFFIC’s data on ivory seizures show that record levels of illicit ivory were seized in 2011. But government ivory stockpiles can still find their way back into the illegal trade, if not properly managed.

“Zambia lost 3 tonnes of ivory from the government’s strong room just last week and Mozambique lost 1.1 tonnes in February,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s ivory trade expert. “Gabon’s actions effectively keep the ivory out of the way of temptation.”

Central African governments have joined together in search of ways to overcome this crisis by signing a regional plan to strengthen law enforcement and better combat poaching of elephants and other species at risk from illegal wildlife trade.

We have long challenged the poaching and trafficking of threatened species - and will launch a global campaign with TRAFFIC to combat illegal wildlife trade in July.

TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.

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