JOHANNESBURG – Key states where the illegal ivory trade flourishes have pledged to take urgent measures to try to halt the illicit trade and secure elephant populations across Africa, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, said Wednesday.
The agreement was reached at the African Elephant Summit convened by the government of Botswana and the IUCN held in Gaborone over the past few days.
The measures were agreed upon by key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia and ivory transit states Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand, said the IUCN in a statement.
"Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act," Botswana President Ian Khama told the summit.
"Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species," he said.
One of the 14 measures the delegates committed to involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a "serious crime." According to the IUCN, this will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime.
Other measures agreed upon include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilizing financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.
"We are very pleased with the result of the summit, especially as it involves some of the most important countries along the illegal ivory value chain," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre. "We hope that these outcomes will go beyond the summit's focus on African elephants and boost broader efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade in other species which have been threatened by it, such as rhinos and pangolins."
According to the IUCN, 2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and it says 2012 showed no signs of abating.
According to preliminary data, even higher levels of illicit trade may be reached in 2013, it said. Eighteen large scale seizures of more than 40 tons of ivory had been recorded so far this year, which represented the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the last 25 years.
A report presented at the summit by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, suggested that as many as 20 percent of Africa's elephants could be killed in the next 10 years if illegal poaching continues at the current rate.
Poverty and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia are the principle drivers of poaching and the illegal ivory trade, according to the IUCN.