Poor performances by key countries in the fight against illegal wildlife trade are threatening the survival of wild rhinos, tigers and elephants, a new WWF report has found.
The analysis, released as governments gather in Geneva this week to discuss a range of issues related to wildlife trade, rates 23 of the top African and Asian nations facing high levels of poaching and trafficking in ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.
The report, entitled Wildlife Crime Scorecard: Assessing Compliance with and Enforcement of CITES Commitments for Tigers, Rhinos and Elephants, examines of the many countries considered as range, transit or consumer countries for these species. It gives countries scores of green, yellow or red for each animal, as applicable, as an indicator of recent progress. WWF has found that illegal trade persists in virtually all 23 countries reviewed, but the scorecard seeks to differentiate between countries where it is actively being countered from those where current efforts are entirely inadequate.
Asian demand drives poaching
Among the worst performers is Viet Nam that received two red scores, for rhinos and tigers. Viet Nam is identified in the report as the top destination country for rhino horn, which has fuelled a poaching crisis in South Africa. A record 448 South African rhinos were killed for their horns in 2011 and the country, which itself receives a yellow for rhinos, has lost an additional 262 already this year. According to the report, many Vietnamese have been arrested or implicated in South Africa for acquiring rhino horns illegally, including Vietnamese diplomats.
Inadequate enforcement of domestic ivory markets in China is also highlighted in the report. China receives a yellow score for elephants indicating a failure by the country to effectively police its legal ivory markets. “The ongoing flow of large volumes of illegal ivory to China suggests that such ivory may be moving into legal ivory trade channels,” the report says.
China is urged to dramatically and consistently improve its enforcement controls for ivory and to communicate to Chinese nationals in Africa that anyone caught importing illegal wildlife products into China would be prosecuted, and if convicted, severely penalized.
Poaching crisis across Africa
Tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed by poachers each year for their tusks and China and Thailand are top destinations for illegal African ivory. Thailand receives a red score for its failure to close a legal loophole that makes it easy for retailers to sell ivory from poached African elephants.
Elephant poaching is at crisis levels in Central Africa, where rhinos were likely poached to extinction. Last year witnessed the elephant highest poaching rates across the continent since records began. Early this year hundreds of elephants were killed in a single incident in a Cameroon national park. “Given the escalation of elephant poaching in Africa and the increased levels of organized crime involved in the trade, it is clear that the situation is now critical,” the report found.
Wildlife crime not only poses a threat to animals, but is a risk to people, territorial integrity, stability and rule of law. Regional cooperation is needed in Central Africa to counter the flows of illegal ivory and arms spilling across borders. WWF commends Central African governments for signing a regional wildlife law enforcement plan and urges them to make its implementation a top priority, allocating resources to the plan and improving the efficacy of prosecutions for those implicated in poaching or illegal trade.
“Although most Central African countries receive yellow or red scores for elephants, there are some encouraging signals. Last month Gabon burned its entire ivory stockpile, to ensure that no tusks would leak into illegal trade, and President Ali Bongo committed to both increasing protections in the country’s parks and to ensuring that those committing wildlife crimes are prosecuted and sent to prison,” said WWF Global Species Programme manager Wendy Elliott.
A haunting but disturbing video, titled “Dying for Ivory”, produced by Elephant Advocacy as a contribution to the salvation of the African Elephant:
Other bright spots from the report are green scores for India and Nepal for each of the three species groups. In 2011, Nepal celebrated a year without any rhino poaching incidents, which was largely attributed to improvements to anti-poaching and other law enforcement efforts.
WWF’s Wildlife Crime Scorecard is being released as member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) hold their annual Standing Committee meeting. The conservation organization is set to launch a global campaign to fight illegal wildlife trade, which is putting the future of elephants, rhinos and tigers at risk.
Learn more at WWF’s Wildlife Trade Campaign.
The above news item is reprinted from materials available at WWF and Wildlife Pictures Online. Original text may be edited for content and length.