Africa's elephants threatened by Angola connection

Posted: 6 April 2006

A huge increase in illegal ivory on sale in Angola is threatening Africa's elephants. Four years on from the end of the Angolan civil war, the bloody plight of the region's elephants is worsening with a doubling in the illegal ivory trade in Angola over the last 12 to 18 months.

A new report, issued today by WWF and Traffic, looked at the curio markets in Angola's capital Luanda and shows that the volume of elephant ivory available in local markets is escalating.

African elephants, Etosha National Park, Namibia. © WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
African elephants, Etosha National Park, Namibia. © WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
African elephant, Loxodonta africana. Breeding herd on the move. Etosha National Park, Namibia© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Over 1.5 tonnes of worked ivory products, representing the tusks of at least 300 African elephants, were observed during the June 2005 survey - this amount of poached ivory means that substantial quantities must be being illegally imported from other African states.

"Illegal ivory markets expand when business is booming and government authorities look the other way," said Tom Milliken, Director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa and one of the report authors. "The war continues for elephants as all of the ivory traded through these local markets is coming from illicit sources."

Outside Convention

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), which bans the international trade in ivory. 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.

Elephant ivory, from African elephants, confiscated from poachers. © WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Elephant ivory, from African elephants, confiscated from poachers. © WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Elephant ivory, from African elephants, confiscated from poachers© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
"We're very concerned because unregulated domestic ivory markets in Africa are the drivers behind the illegal killing of some 12,000 elephants annually," says 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."To support elephant conservation, the 169 Parties to CITES adopted an action plan to shut down Africa's unregulated ivory markets at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties 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, Head of WWF-International's Africa Elephant Programme.The TRAFFIC study found that nearly three-quarters of the ivory vendors in Luanda were French-speaking Congolese from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many of the ivory products appeared to originate from Congo Basin countries. Most ivory curios were being purchased by Americans, European and Chinese buyers, presumably for illegal export to their native countries. These facts underscore the cross-border, regional and global nature of the ivory trade.

No Peace for Elephants: Unregulated Domestic Ivory Markets is produced by Traffic,the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Sumatra slaughter

In a separate report, WWF said that urgent action needed to prevent possible extinction of Sumatran elephants in Riau, Indonesia.Sumatran elephants in Riau, Indonesia, have declined by nearly 75 per cent over the past 11 years. Without improved management, it is likely they could face extinction in another five years. Currently there are approximately 400 Sumatran elephants in Riau.The main causes of population decline are:

  • Rampant destruction of elephant habitat through the, often illegal, logging and uncontrolled conversion of forests into oil palm and pulp plantations.

  • This conversion has been creating massive conflict between humans and elephants as elephants are forced to feed on the crops that replaced their natural foods. Elephants are poisoned and shot in retaliation or die when captured by the Government

  • The incompetent handling of wild elephant captures and release.
A state of the art new interactive mapping tool launched by WWF and Eyes on the Forest shows every elephant killing and capture in Riau, overlaid with data on elephant populations and forest clearance. Click hereto see this.