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African jumbos may be extinct in 20 years


Times of India, New Delhi, 25 March, 2015

 KASANE (BOTSWANA): African elephants could be extinct in the wild within a few decades, experts warned on Monday at a major conservation summit in Botswana that highlighted an alarming decline in numbers due to poaching for ivory .


The Africa Elephant Summit, held at a tourist resort in Kasane, gathered delegates from about 20 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia, including China -which is accused of fuelling the illegal poaching trade.


"This species could be extinct in our lifetime, within one or two decades, if the current trend continues," Dune Ives, senior researcher at Vulcan, a philanthropic organization run by US billionaire Paul Allen, said. "In five years we may have lost the opportunity to save this magnificent and iconic animal."


The conference heard latest figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which reported that the African elephant population had dropped from 5,50,000 in 2006 to 4,70,000 in 2013.


East Africa has seen the worst decline, from 1,50,000 to about 1,00,000. "The overall objective of this meeting is to secure commitments at the highest political level to effectively protect the elephants and significantly reduce the trends of killings of elephants," said Elias Magosi from the Botswanan environment ministry . "The current killing rate is unsustainable and the population of African elephants is in danger."


Elephant hunting is often organized by international criminal networks to supply the illegal ivory market, mainly in Asia, with some profits thought to fund regional conflicts and militants. "These syndicates take advantage of conflicts, social unrest, poor governance," Magosi said.


TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring group, said that ivory trading routes demonstrated the flow from Kenya and Tanzania to transit countries including Vietnam and Philippines, before going on final markets in China and Thailand. There, the ivory is sculpted into jewellery or art pieces that are prized by the wealthy.”Thailand is still a country of great concern," Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC said. "(But) China is the most important country that we are dealing with." Tshekedi Khama, Botswanan minister of tourism and wildlife, also railed against China, saying, "Whether we like it or not, the determining fact and the end result is totally in China's hands."


Ivory is reportedly bought at $100 per kg ($45 per pound) from poachers, and sold for $2,100 in China.