While Southern Africa faces its biggest loss to rhino poachers in recent history, Africa's elephants are now also under increasing threat. While Southern Africa faces its biggest loss to rhino poachers in recent history, Africa's elephants are now also under increasing threat, as 2011 has seen a record number of large ivory seizures globally. According to TRAFFIC this is a sharp rise in illegal ivory trade since 2007, with most of the the large seizures of illicit ivory over the last 12 months being from either Kenya or Tanzania.
The worst year for African elephants
Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800 kg in weight, that have taken place in 2011— at least 13 of them. This compares to six large seizures in 2010, whose total weight was just under 10 tonnes. A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 tonnes, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more.
The most recent case to come to light was of 727 ivory pieces discovered on 21st December concealed inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and destined for Asia. "In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures—2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC's Elephant expert. Milliken manages ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System), the illegal ivory trade monitoring system that TRAFFIC runs on behalf of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
ETIS holds the details of over 17,000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures that have taken place anywhere in the world since 1989. "The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking. Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China or Thailand."According to Milliken, the smugglers appear to have changed from using air to sea freight. In early 2011, three of the large scale ivory seizures were at airports, but later in the year most were found in sea freight. In six of the large seizures in 2011, Malaysia has been a transit country in the supply chain, a role that TRAFFIC first drew attention to in 2009.
Large-scale ivory seizures, 2001-2011
|Year||No. of Large-scale Seizures||Wt of Large-scale Ivory Seizures (kg)|
|-||-||* estimated, provisional figure|
Large scale ivory seizures in 2011 (some await official confirmation)
|Seized||Month in 2011||Number of ivory pieces||Actual/estimated weight (kg)|