The Central African Republic’s decision this week to undergo an independent audit of its ivory stocks is a sign the country is serious about addressing rampant elephant poaching and related illegal wildlife crimes. WWF and TRAFFIC have congratulated the government of the Central African Republic for this bold move and strongly urge the country to completely destroy these stocks once the audit is completed.
“On Tuesday 23 October, government officials and WWF began auditing ivory stocks which were seized in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas complex and stored near the town of Bayanga in the south west of the country, about 20 km from both Cameroon and the Republic of Congo,” Jean-Baptiste Mamang-Kanga, the director of fauna and protected areas of the Central African Republic’s ministry of water, forests, hunting and fishing told WWF. “Over the next three months a further seven sites are to be examined and all audited ivory stocks will be sent to a secured warehouse in the country’s capital, Bangui,” he said. “By auditing and centralizing these ivory stocks, we will be able to ensure that they will not find their way back into illegal ivory markets, both here and abroad,” Mamang-Kanga added.
According to WWF, elephant poaching in the Central African Republic has reached crisis levels. Last year, the UN body that regulates international wildlife trade found that 2011 was the worst year on record for elephant poaching in the African continent. It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are killed across Africa each year for their tusks, a consequence the high demand for ivory products in Asia.
“The Central African Republic is under siege by these well-armed transnational criminal gangs of poachers, seriously affecting the security, economic and social prospects of the country,” said Jean-Bernard Yarissem, WWF Country Coordinator in the Central African Republic.
“But the independent ivory audit is a signal to the world the country will not be an idle victim of this crisis and will take appropriate measures to ensure the rule of law is respected throughout its territory,” he said.
In June, following an independent audit by WWF, TRAFFIC and the Gabonese government, Gabon became the first country in the region to destroy its ivory stock. It took over 24 hours to burn the 4,825 kg of ivory, which corresponds to roughly 850 dead elephants. WWF and TRAFFIC do not have estimates of the quantity of ivory stocked by the authorities of the Central African Republic.
“There are cases around the world of government ivory stocks being stolen and then ending up back in the black market, further feeding illegal trade, associated criminal activities and potentially stimulating demand,” said Stéphane Ringuet, regional director of Central Africa for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “The ivory audit will help the government put in place a solid system to manage these stocks and ensure they do not benefit criminal networks,” he concluded.
Unfortunately, illegal wildlife trade – valued at between $8 billion and $10 billion per year – ranks as the fifth most lucrative illegal transnational activity in the world.
In April 2012 the Central African Republic, Gabon and the USA co-hosted an international conference which recognized the serious threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade on the economic, social and security prospects of the region. At a follow-up meeting in June, ministers of eight countries endorsed a regional action plan to strengthen law enforcement against illegal wildlife trade in Central Africa, under the umbrella of the Central Africa Forestry Commission – COMIFAC.
There are also many organisations in Africa that are campaigning against the illegal trade in wildlife.