International football star, Yaya Touré, has pledged his support to help combat the illegal ivory trade that sees thousands of African elephants slaughtered each year as he was unveiled as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director (left) with Yaya Touré (right) during the designation ceremony.
Mr. Touré joins the roster of other UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors which include Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, US actor Don Cheadle, Chinese actress Li Bingbing, French photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand and Indian economist Pavan Sukhdev – to help generate public awareness and understanding of environmental causes.
Touré, African Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and an inspirational figure for Manchester City and his national side Côte d’Ivoire, travelled to the headquarters of UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya – a country that is facing a massive spike in poaching – to accept his nomination.
“Côte d’Ivoire’s national team is named ‘The Elephants’ after these magnificent creatures that are so full of power and grace, yet in my country alone there may be as few as 800 individuals left,” Touré said. “Poaching threatens the very existence of the African elephant and if we do not act now we could be looking at a future in which this iconic species is wiped out.”
“I became a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador to spread the message that this poaching-and other forms of wildlife crime-is not only a betrayal of our responsibility to safeguard threatened species, but a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries,” he added.
Increased poaching and loss of habitats are decimating African elephant populations-especially in Central African countries-according to a report entitled “Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis”, released in Bangkok in March at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The UN estimates that over 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in monitored sites in 2011 alone. Overall figures may be much higher. The extent of the killings now far exceeds the natural population growth rates, putting elephants at risk of extinction, especially in Central and Western Africa. But even previously secure populations, such as those in East Africa, are now under threat.
Mr. Touré has already demonstrated his commitment to tackling this issue. In September this year, Mr. Touré and other players at a World Cup qualifier between Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco – viewed by tens of millions across the globe – held up slogans to raise awareness of the killings of elephants and other wildlife.
The Elephants in the Dust report, produced by UNEP, CITES, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) – says that the illegal ivory trade has tripled since 1998.
Criminal networks are responsible for the illegal trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia. Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.
The international community is looking at measures to address the crisis, including collaborative action to combat the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, which would include:
- Improved law-enforcement across the entire illegal ivory supply chain;
- Strengthened national legislative frameworks;
- Training of enforcement officers in the use of tracking, intelligence networks and innovative techniques, such as forensic analysis;
- Better international collaboration across range states, transit countries and consumer markets;
- Action to fight collusive corruption, identifying syndicates and reducing demand.