Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory. File picture: Masi Losi

Durban - South Africa’s elephants are next on the shopping list of wildlife poaching syndicates, the Wildlife and Environment Society has warned.

Chris Galliers, the society’s national biodiversity manager, said elephant ivory syndicates were just as well organised as rhino poaching gangs, and noted that record volumes of elephant tusks had been exported illegally from Africa last year.

Ivory prices had also increased by more than 100 percent over the past three years and it seemed inevitable that there would be a southward migration of ivory poaching as elephants were decimated in east, west and central Africa.

“The scramble for Africa’s natural resources is expanding exponentially, not only in terms of area, but also in terms of products, whether living or non-living.”

Galliers said wildlife crime syndicates often followed in the wake of other more conventional economic opportunities such as mining. As new roads and transport links were opened up for minerals and other commodities, syndicates were taking advantage of the new opportunity to profit from wildlife products.

“The current situation is following the worrying trend of the upsurge in rhino poaching and, unfortunately, it appears that Mozambique is again the primary threat to the sub-region’s elephant population security. Their lax legislation and enforcement ensures poaching can continue with impunity.”

 

Urging the government to exert stronger diplomatic pressure on Mozambique to deal with wildlife crimes, Galliers noted that southern Africa’s elephant population had increased significantly since the world ivory ban had taken effect in 1989.

Southern Africa now contained more than 50 percent of the continent’s elephants, compared with around 21 percent of the continental population 20 years ago. “West, east and central Africa used to form close to 70 percent of the continental total, but these populations are being decimated by unregulated domestic ivory markets.”

One example illustrating the intensity of the ivory poaching problem was Zakouma National Park in Chad, where almost 3 000 elephants had been killed over the past three years.

Galliers said there had been several confiscations of ivory inside South Africa’s borders over the past few years, although the exact source of these tusks was not known.

 

Elephants most at risk were large, mature bulls which sometimes crossed over South Africa’s borders into adjacent transfrontier conservation areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“The looming threat to elephants should ensure that there is continued and even increased support for rhino anti-poaching efforts, as our investment now will no doubt increase the chances of reducing the threat to South Africa’s elephants in the future.” - The Mercury