Elephants 'facing African extinction'
23,400kg of Ivory was seized in the 12 months ending August 2006 alone
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Tuesday, 27, Feb 2007 08:32
African elephants could be on the cusp of a slide into extinction due to rampant growth in the illegal ivory trade, conservationists have warned.
Elephants are currently being slaughtered for ivory at an "unprecedented" rate in Africa, the University of Washington has claimed, 18 years after an international convention forever banned the trade.
But although illegal ivory traffic slowed up until 1994, Samuel Wasser writes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal that poachers have stepped up their efforts to evade detection ever since.
The director of the centre for conservation biology at the US university says that in the 12 months ending August last year, almost 23,400 kilograms of ivory from African sources was seized.
But the professor says that only ten per cent of contraband is typically discovered, meaning that an estimated 23,000 elephants - equal to five per cent of Africa's total population - were killed during the period.
"Elephants are majestic animals and are not trivial to the ecosystem. They are a keystone species and taking them out significantly alters the habitat. It has ripple effects on lots of different species," he writes.
According to Professor Wasser, demand in south-east Asia and China is fuelling a resurgence of organised crime gangs who specialise in the trade of ivory.
He said that whereas in 1989 1kg of ivory would have cost $100 (£51), prices have now escalated to up to $750 (£382).
"If it really is organised crime that's driving this, then the only hope we have of stopping it is to stop the ivory at the source, to not let it into the international market. Because once it's in the international market, the trade is very hard to stop," Professor Wasser insisted.
The PNAS article concludes that poorer African nations with sizeable elephant populations should be given financial help by the west to break ivory poaching rings.