- Four years on from the end of the Angolan civil war, the plight of the country's elephants is worsening with a doubling in the illegal ivory trade over the last 12 to 18 months, according to environmentalist groups. Over 1.5 tonnes of worked ivory products, representing the tusks of at least 300 African elephants, were observed during a June 2005 survey.
The environmental group Traffic, which works against illegal trading in animals, this week released a new report that looks into the trade of elephant tusks in Angola. The report - "No peace for elephants: Unregulated domestic ivory markets" - looked at the curio markets in Angola's capital Luanda for the first time and showed that the volume of elephant ivory available in local markets is escalating.
"Illegal ivory markets expand when business is booming and government authorities look the other way," commented Tom Milliken of Traffic, who also is one of the report's authors. "The war continues for elephants as all of the ivory traded through these local markets is coming from illicit sources," he added.
Of the 37 countries that still harbour wild populations of African elephants, Angola is the only one that remains a non-Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In fact, Angola is the only nation in sub-Saharan Africa to remain outside of the convention, the world's foremost mechanism for regulating trade in endangered and threatened wildlife species.
"We are very concerned because unregulated domestic ivory markets in Africa are the drivers behind the illegal killing of some 12,000 elephants annually," said Mr Milliken. "The Angolan connection is a new, growing and worrying dimension in the illegal ivory trade as it currently exists beyond the reach of CITES," he warned.
To support elephant conservation, the 169 countries behind CITES adopted an action plan to shut down Africa's unregulated ivory markets at a conference in October 2004. "Angola is clearly out of step with the rest of Africa, failing to join CITES and failing to support the continent-wide action plan to shut down the very markets that drive elephant poaching today," said PJ Stephenson of the conservationist group WWF, working on an African elephant programme.
The Traffic study found that nearly three-quarters of the ivory vendors in Luanda were French-speaking Congolese from neighbouring Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and many of the ivory products appeared to originate from Congo Basin countries. Most ivory curios were being purchased by American, European and Chinese buyers, presumably for illegal export to their native countries.
"These facts underscore the cross-border, regional and global dynamics of the ivory trade," WWF noted in a statement today. It is illegal to export or import ivory products.
Within southern Africa, Angola and Mozambique have the largest illicit trades in elephant ivory, according to Traffic. Nearly 20 percent of the 3,254 products observed in Mozambique last year were in the duty-free departure lounge area of the capital's international airport in clear defiance of CITES regulations. But in the wake of the Traffic assessment, Mozambique authorities have now taken measures to curb this trade and recent reports indicate the Maputo airport is now free of ivory.
Angola's wild elephant population has not been surveyed for decades and due to the lack of recent information, IUCN's African Elephant Database indicates that only 250 elephants are found in the country. This figure most certainly represents an under-estimation, but accurate census work in former, heavily-mined, conflict zones is costly and fraught with many difficulties.
On the other hand the data for Mozambique is much better and, according to the environmentalists' database, the elephant population could comprise as many as 24,400 animals, if "possible" and "speculative" numbers are considered.
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