Several African countries have made great strides in clamping down on ivory smuggling, with large seizures for the first time exceeding those made in prime destination Asia, the UN wildlife regulator said yesterday.
Until recently, seizures of half a tonne or more of ivory were rarely made before the contraband left Africa. That changed just over a year ago, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Two-thirds of the 76 such seizures made since 2009 have been in Asia, where demand for tusks for decorative purposes and use in traditional medicines has fuelled a huge illicit trade.
But since March 2013, for the first time "more large-scale seizures were made in Africa than in Asia", Cites said.
Eighty per cent of the African seizures were made in three countries - Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - that are among the eight nations ordered by Cites last March to create action plans to tackle the problem.
The shift in where seizures are taking place is hugely significant, according to Ben Janse van Rensburg, a former South African police officer who heads Cites' enforcement support unit.
"These large consignments up until now ... managed to leave the African continent without being detected at all," he said.
"Now they are being detected, which actually shows that these countries have started to implement measures to combat this illegal trade," he said.
There is still a long way to go, however. The Cites report found that more than 20,000 elephants were poached across Africa last year alone. While the number is staggering, it actually signals a levelling off after a decade of skyrocketing poaching.
In 2011, some 25,000 of the world's largest land mammals were killed, and the number was around 22,000 in 2012.