Africa-Asia summit agrees tough steps to curb illegal ivory trade

African elephant host nations and countries in Asia to get tough with poachers and smugglers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 9:22am


African and Asian nations have agreed on urgent measures to tackle the illegal ivory trade, from the slaughter of elephants to the trafficking of their valuable tusks to East Asia.

The deal was agreed on Tuesday after top officials and experts from 30 states met in Botswana to tackle an upsurge in elephant poaching as demand for ivory soars from countries such as China and Thailand.

Countries that are home to elephants, and those where their ivory ends up, agreed to "urgent measures to halt the illegal trade and secure elephant populations across Africa", Botswana and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a statement.

They vowed to take a "zero tolerance approach", which includes maximum sentences for wildlife crimes and boosting the ability of national agencies to deal with highly organised poaching syndicates.

The meeting also agreed that ivory trafficking should be classified as a "serious crime", paving the way for international co-operation such as mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, and extradition.

"The summit is the first-ever meeting focusing on the dynamics of the entire ivory value chain," the statement said.

Conservation groups at the African Elephant Summit warned that Africa could lose 20 per cent of its elephant population within a decade.

Elephants are increasingly hunted by criminal gangs and militias using sophisticated equipment, while high-level corruption helps move the ivory off the continent.

Proceeds are in some cases used to "fund armed militias and rebel groups engaged in internal and cross-border conflicts", according to the IUCN.

Six countries signed the pact but all 30 states attending the summit agreed on the measures and committed to signing the deal, said Simon Stuart, chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. "We have consensus. It's good news."

Among those who agreed to the measures were key elephant host nations such as Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia, transit countries Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand.

These countries will strengthen co-operation between their law enforcement agencies and create mechanisms at home to "allow immediate action" against anyone involved in poaching or the illegal ivory trade.

A report by CITES, Traffic and the IUCN estimates 22,000 African elephants were illegally killed last year, as poaching reached "unacceptably elevated levels".

"We are very pleased with the result of the summit," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general.

Watch: Once a poacher, now a protector of elephants