Nowhere to hide

A new report, published by Professor Sam Wasser from the University of Washington in the USA, reveals that most of the ivory being smuggled out of Africa comes from just two areas! The findings are published in the Journal of Science and are the result of  Sam’s tenacious efforts to examine samples from seized ivory shipments and subject them to DNA analysis.

Originally, Sam (a long-term friend of Born Free) used elephant skin, teeth and hair samples but then he developed a method for extracting the DNA from ivory.  Using ivory pieces about the size of a 50 pence coin, taken from the base of the tusk, his University of Washington group has now analysed ivory from 28 large ivory seizures, each seizure being more than 500 kg (and all made between 1996 and 2014).  This represents 61% of seizures made worldwide between 2012 and 2014.

The results confirm that 27 of the 28 seizures were concentrated in just four areas and since 2006, most ivory came from just two locations.

A staggering 85% of forest elephant ivory came from the African Tridom Protected Eco-system spanning north-eastern Gabon, north-western Republic of Congo and south-eastern Cameroon together with south-western Central African Republic. More than 85% of the savannah ivory seized between 2006 and 2014 was traced to East Africa, namely the Selous Game Reserve in south-eastern Tanzania and Niassa Reserve in adjacent northern Mozambique.

In 2011, as poaching pressure intensified, the slaughter shifted from the Selous Reserve to Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve in the centre of Tanzania, indicating the adaptability of poaching operations.

Born Free has assisted Sam in his work in the past and also facilitated, with our colleagues at Kenya Airways and Kenya Wildlife Service, the shipment of samples for DNA testing.

When you are losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something urgent and nail down where the major killing is happening and stop it at source” Sam said.

Sam’s right.  The work that he and his team have undertaken for so long, now points the finger exactly where anti-poaching efforts should be focussed.  Together with other measures, including demand elimination, the closing of domestic markets and disruption of supply lines, I still believe that it is a battle we can win.

Blogging off.


2 Responses to “Nowhere to hide”

  1. Gill Gilbey Says:

    Dear Will,
    With regard to Tanzania this is hardly “news” academics are all very well BUT it would appear that the plight of Tanzania and Mozambique has been largely ignored by wildlife conservationists WHY?? I supported The Independent “Space For Giants” appeal for Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park Christmas 2013 What has happened there subsequently? Thousands of pounds were raised.
    The plight of the forest elephants it seems to me has been shamefully neglected by all conservationist groups.WWF saved Virunga but has there been a lack of effort to tackle more difficult places like Gabon Congo and Cameroon?
    The Guardian Environment headline of 23/6/15 “China agrees to phase out its ivory industry to combat elephant poaching” Do we believe it ? they haven’t said when this will happen,hopefully for all elephants the fact that they have said it should mean something.

  2. Will Travers Says:

    Dear Gill

    Thanks very much for your comment. Of course, the situation in Tanzania is dire as it is in Mozambique and something that I have been personally trying to highlight now for years. The Tanzanian authorities have been in denial for a long time and despite large volumes of ivory originating from the country, they say they had no elephant poaching. Now we know the truth!

    The work of Professor Sam Wasser is something that we have supported now for ten years and I feel is very important since it is one way of ensuring that no-one can any longer hide the truth when it comes to where poaching impact is greatest. For many years, Sam was frustrated in his work by the lack of co-operation by governments in sending ivory samples, another reason why this report is now so welcome.

    With regard to Space for Giants, I would urge you to contact Max at the charity and I am sure he will be able to verify where the generous support that he and SFG have received has been applied. He is a good man.

    With regard to Gabon, I respectively disagree. The extraordinary efforts of both the President and Lee White, certainly over the last three or four years, have made that country a last fortress for forest elephants notwithstanding the high levels of poaching that occurred previously.

    The Congo appears to be also stepping-up having destroyed its ivory and hosted a key range State meeting this year.

    Cameroon I am not so sure there is a commitment but perhaps further pressure from other range States and the international community will deliver results.

    With regard to China, I think the commitment is a real one and that China will phase-out its ivory industry but the question is when and I know that this is the single point that is being put to the Chinese authorities. We want a timeline but it needs to be short.

    I can assure you that Born Free is doing what it can both at a policy level and in the field to assist, as we have since I went to the CITES meetings in 1989 and helped secure what we hoped, at that time, a lasting victory – the international ivory trade ban. Sadly other voices have eroded that in the intervening years but I hope that renewed efforts will once more bring an end to trade.

    With good wishes