New analyses reveal elephant poaching and global ivory trafficking continue at high unsustainable levels in 2016

A record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016 © TRAFFIC

Geneva, Switzerland, 25th October 2017—new analyses find the elephant poaching situation in Africa and levels of global ivory trafficking remain as critical threats to the survival of Africa’s iconic pachyderms.

report published ahead of next month’s crucial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), combines analyses of elephant mortality compiled through the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme with analysis of global ivory trafficking through the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) that TRAFFIC compiles on behalf of Parties to CITES. There are also updates from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on elephant populations.

The MIKE analysis of elephant carcases across selected sites in Africa finds an incremental decline in elephant poaching for the fifth year in a row, but overall poaching still remains at levels which suggest continuing population decline. The worst affected areas are in Central and West Africa.

The situation in East Africa, however, is a bright spot. At three sites in Tanzania and one in Kenya fewer than half the number of elephant carcasses were recorded in 2016 compared to 2015. Tanzania remains the sub-region’s elephant stronghold although numbers in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are also stable or rising, as are some populations in southern Africa.

The ETIS analysis indicates that levels of illegal ivory transactions remained as high as in the previous six years, but also estimates that a record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016. This means that, even taking into account the impact of increased enforcement action, the overall quantity of ivory in illegal trade is likely now nearly three times greater than what was observed in 2007.

These record levels are partially driven by the 22 large-scale ivory seizures (>500 kg) reported in 2016—a record-number. CITES recognizes that seizures of 500 kg or more are generally considered to be indicative of the involvement of organized crime. Overall, close to 40 tonnes of ivory was seized globally during the year.

Worryingly, there is gathering evidence of ivory processing taking place within Africa to facilitate the smuggling of finished products to Asia, especially China and Hong Kong. Other findings reflect a wider shifting of ivory market dynamics, perhaps influenced by the prospect of forthcoming domestic ivory market bans in China and Hong Kong.

“Today’s findings show a volatile and unsettled ivory trade equation. A spate of positive policy changes and law enforcement actions have not yet suppressed record movements of illegal ivory, and trade patterns are shifting as traffickers struggle to find the path of least resistance to carry on,” said Tom Milliken, who manages ETIS for TRAFFIC.

“We’re not turning a corner yet on the elephant poaching crisis and it is more imperative than ever to keep up the pressure to stop the poachers and ivory traffickers by addressing emerging trade dynamics, especially ivory processing in Africa for Asian markets and the scourge of social media trading channels which currently remain beyond the reach of effective law enforcement everywhere.”

Next month, the 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee takes place in Geneva, where among a range of issues, Parties will discuss what progress some 20 countries have made in implementing National Ivory Action Plans they were called upon by CITES to develop.

Breeding failure of a colony of nearly 20,000 Adélie penguins highlights need for urgent protections of Antarctic waters

Adélie penguins © Y. Ropert-Couder/ CNRS/ IPEV.

  • Thousands of Adélie penguin chicks starved to death at the start of 2017 due to unusually extensive sea ice
A colony of over 18,000 pairs of Adélie penguins in Terre Adélie, Antarctica, suffered a catastrophic breeding failure at the start of 2017 with only two chicks surviving. WWF is demanding greater protections of the waters off East Antarctica next week at a crucial international meeting in Hobart, Australia where proposals for a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) will be considered.

Surviving mostly on a diet of krill, a small shrimp like crustacean, Adélie penguins are generally faring well in East Antarctica, but declining in the Antarctic peninsula region where climate change is well established. However, this significant breeding failure at this particular colony in East Antarctica has been linked to unusually extensive sea ice late in the summer, meaning the adult penguins had to travel further to forage for food for their chicks. As a result the chicks starved.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), comprising 25 member states and the EU, are meeting on the 16th October 2017 in Hobart, where they will consider a proposal for a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the waters off East Antarctica. The proposal for an MPA, led by Australia and France with the EU, has been on the table at CCAMLR for eight years but has yet to be agreed.  Nevertheless, expectations are running high as last year CCAMLR adopted the Ross Sea MPA, the largest protected area in the world. An MPA would help to secure a future for the amazing wildlife and marine biodiversity of East Antarctica, including Adélie and emperor penguins.

Four years ago, the same colony which numbered 20,196 pairs at the time, failed to produce a single chick. Again heavy sea ice, combined with unusually warm weather and rain, followed by a rapid drop in temperature, resulted in many chicks becoming saturated and freezing to death.

WWF has been supporting penguin research by French scientists working for the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in the region since 2010.

Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF-UK, said:
“Adélie penguins are one of the hardiest and most amazing animals on our planet. This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins. It’s more like ‘Tarantino does Happy Feet’, with dead penguin chicks strewn across a beach in Adélie Land.

“The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adélie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off East Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins.”

The MPA proposal originally comprised seven large marine areas off the coast of East Antarctica but subsequently reduced to four. However, it is anticipated that only three of those (MacRobertson, Drygalski, and the D’Urville Sea-Mertz region, where the Petrel Island Adélie colony is located) will be adopted this year. The D’Urville Sea Mertz region in particular needs to be set aside as off limits to krill fisheries in order to protect the foraging and breeding grounds of Adélie penguins.

WWF expects the other four areas, comprising Gunnerus, Enderby, Prydz Bay, and Wilkes to be brought back in front of CCAMLR in future years.

Yan Ropert-Coudert, senior penguin scientist at the CNRS who leads the Adélie penguin programme at Dumont D’Urville research station, adjacent to the colony, said:

“The region is impacted by environmental changes that are linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010. An MPA will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring”.