World

Illegal trade of ivory reaches unprecedented levels in Africa: report

The illegal trade of elephant ivory has reached such unprecedented levels in Africa that the authors of a U.S. report published Monday are urging western nations to provide more aid for better enforcement.

The illegal trade of elephant ivory has reached such unprecedented levels in Africa that the authors of a U.S. report published Monday are urging western nations to provide more aid for better enforcement.

They say the trade has increased despite an international ban on ivory imposed in the late 1980s.

"Poaching right now has reached its worst levels in history," said Samuel Wasser, one of the report's authors and director of the University of Washington'sCenter for Conservation Biology in Seattle.

"We're hoping that a number of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are going to get on the bandwagon and help renew their interest in the ivory [trade]," said Wasser, referring to groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Wasser said the poaching problem is so serious that elephants may disappear altogether unless western nations resume enforcement efforts that all but stopped black-market ivory trafficking in the four years immediately afterthe Convention onInternational Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Florawas implemented in 1989.

Since then, funding has dropped off and there isn't enough money to maintain enforcement, he said.

Before the 1989 international ban on ivory, between eight and nine per cent of the African elephant population was killed each year, Wasser said. But it's nowmore than nine per cent each year, he said.

Wasser said he hopes that NGOs can implement public campaigns much like one by WildAid, which has enlisted celebrities, for example,to encourage the public to stop buying shark fins for medicinal purposes.

In Monday's report,it is estimated that more than 23,000 elephants were killed last year based on border seizures of contraband ivory totalling 23,461 kilograms that were headed for Asia.

The report also blamed therise in contraband ivory onorganized crime that is meeting thegrowing demand in China and Japan whereit's used in jewelry and carvings. One border seizure contained 42,120 hankos, worth $8.4 million US, which represented about 20 per cent of Japan's annual hanko trade. Hankos arepersonalized seals used to stamp letters.

The ivory demand has also increased prices. In 1989, one kilogram of ivory sold for $100 on the black market, Wasser said. In 2004,itrose to $200 per kilogram and it skyrocketed to $750 per kilogram last year.

The poaching hotspots in Africa include southeast Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, Wasser said.

He has been working with other scientists and Interpol to track the source of poached ivory to help law enforcement agents work more effectively.

Over several years, they havecollected genetic information from a variety of populations by sampling tissue and dung from known elephant populations andhave compiledthe data into a DNA-based map showing genetic differences between elephant populations.

Using that information, the scientists were able to detect whether the elephants originated from forests or savannahs.

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