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Kenya's ivory burning the peak of global poaching war in 2016

  • Published at 09:30 pm December 16th, 2016
Kenya's ivory burning the peak of global poaching war in 2016

It was one of the most momentous events in the battle against poaching: 11 giant pyres of elephant tusks going up in flames in Kenya as the world looked on. The largest-ever destruction of ivory, which took place in April, was the pinnacle of efforts to jolt mankind into stopping the slaughter of wildlife, while sending a powerful message to poachers.

As 2016 draws to an end, awareness of the devastation of poaching is greater than ever and countries have turned to high-tech warfare- drones, night-goggles and automatic weapons, to stop increasingly armed poachers.

"We obviously still have a very long way to go, but the level of political awareness we have reached is remarkable compared to 6 years ago," said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the International Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Poaching was somewhat of a niche concern until around 2010 when the massacre of elephant and rhino began reaching such levels that conservationists and wildlife activists realised more had to be done to give the problem wider attention.

High-profile names including Britain's Prince William were recruited to the cause, while calls grew louder for a total global ban on the ivory trade. The move is slowly paying off, and 2016 saw hopeful signs that people may no longer be willing to watch as extinction goes unchecked. China is the main source of global demand for ivory and in March the government announced a ban on new ivory imports.

Then, in early October, CITES strengthened protection of other threatened species, including sharks, pangolins and grey parrots.

Worth more than gold

Elephant populations are stable, or even increasing, in South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, parts of Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi or the W-Arli-Pendjari complex extending over Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. But elsewhere they are declining rapidly, and sometimes catastrophically.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the African elephant population has recorded its biggest drop in a quarter century, with an estimated population of 415,000 elephants, 111,000 fewer than a decade ago. And the killing continues at the dizzying pace of about 30,000 elephants a year.

The rhinoceros fares worse. Black market rhino horn sells for up to $60,000 per kilogram, more than gold or cocaine, and in the last eight years alone roughly a quarter of the world population has been killed in South Africa, home to 80% of the remaining animals.

CITES estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $20bn a year, making it the fourth biggest illicit activity after guns, drugs and human trafficking.

Some African countries have made the fight against poaching a priority, but others believe there are more important problems on which to spend scarce resources, such as ending conflict, poverty, unemployment or hunger.