Elephant poaching in Africa declined for a fifth straight year by last year but seizures of illegal ivory hit higher records the same period, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES monitor said last week.
CITE said the conflicting phenomena showed that despite the overall fall in poaching, Africa’s elephant population has continued to drop, but seizures of elephant tusks were reported both inside and outside the continent’s borders.
Global illegal ivory trade has remained relatively stable for six years, CITES reported. But 2016 saw a full 40 tonnes of illegal ivory seized, the most since 1989, as well as the highest-ever number of “large-scale ivory seizures”, CITES monitor said in its recent report.
“The overall weight of seized ivory in illegal trade is now nearly three times greater than what was observed in 2007”, CITES added.
That could be a result of increasing vigilance among border guards and “scaled up enforcement”, said John Scanlon, CITES secretary general.
But Scanlon also speculated that the prospect of tougher enforcement along with the widening trend of countries moving to ban ivory may have had a ripple effect across the black market.
International syndicates behind poaching and smuggling may be involved in a panic sell-off as they realize that speculating on extinction was a bad bet, with the ever-increasing risk of getting caught, Scanlon was quoted as saying.
Multiple studies from civil society groups have reported a 50 percent drop in ivory prices in recent years, according to CITES. The outlook for elephant populations across Africa is mixed, according to the report.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has previously found that Africa’s elephant numbers fell by 111,000 between 2006 and 2015. But according to CITES, the population in Southern Africa and much of East Africa is now either stable or increasing.
Continent-wide, Botswana has the most number of elephants, while populations in Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda are holding steady or climbing.
Illegal elephant killings however remain high in Central Africa, home to chronically restive countries like the Democratic Republic of the Cong and the Central African Republic, where weak conservation efforts have failed to stem poaching.
The number of elephant carcass recorded from at the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) sites in Tanzania showed a drop by 55 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, and a similar decline was recorded from a site in Kenya.
While Tanzania remains the sub-region’s stronghold for elephant populations in the East African sub-region, elephant numbers recorded in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are also stable or on the rise.
Eastern Africa sub-region has been badly affected by the surge in poaching over the last ten years, and has experienced an almost 50 percent reduction in elephant population.
Countries in the region have recorded a steady decline in poaching levels since its peak in 2011, and the analysis made from 2016 concludes that overall poaching trends have now dropped to pre-2008 levels.