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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
'Rich world should save elephants'
African elephants on plain   Ifaw
Going fast: Africa's elephants have dwindled in 20 years

The Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey says the developed countries have a responsibility to save the world's elephants.

Dr Leakey told BBC News Online it was unfair to leave the job to the poor countries where the elephants live.

For God's sake let's not open up the ivory trade just now

Dr Richard Leakey
He urged a continuing ban on the sale of all ivory, including tusks obtained legally.

He said poachers in central Africa were causing mayhem, while Asia's elephants were critically threatened.

Dr Leakey was speaking before a meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) from 3 to 15 November in Santiago, Chile.

Five southern African countries - Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe - want permission from Cites to sell stockpiled ivory.

This means moving elephants from Cites' Appendix I to Appendix II. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction, and trade is allowed only exceptionally.

'Over-run with elephants'

Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but where trade needs controlling to help their survival.

Dead elephant   Ifaw
An elephant dies, the trade prospers
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) says all elephants should be put on Appendix I. In a poll conducted in the UK, it says nine Britons in 10 support protecting them.

The five countries say they have too many elephants and the money from ivory sales could help conservation.

Their opponents say there is no way to distinguish between ivory from legal sources and tusks which have been poached.

So any legal trade would inevitably fuel a demand which only the poachers could satisfy.

African elephants' estimated decline, 1981-95
West Africa 14.4%
Central Africa 47.7%
East Africa 70.5%
An experimental legal stockpile sale in 1999 is said to have prompted a clear surge in illegal trade and poaching.

Dr Leakey told BBC News Online: "All the evidence points to the world's elephants facing a huge threat.

"Ivory is flowing out to south-east Asia, where there's a big demand for it, and poaching in central Africa is causing havoc.

"For God's sake, let's not open up the ivory trade just now. I don't have a problem with the principle of selling ivory, but if you restart legal sales now, you'll drive the illegal trade too. If the trade restarts, we're heading down the slippery slope.

Money to replace words

"I know these states say they have too many elephants, and we have exactly the same problem in some Kenyan parks. All I'm saying is that we mustn't put the ivory on the market."

Asked if the developed world was doing enough, Dr Leakey said: "I'm absolutely sure more could be done.

Confiscated tusks   Ifaw
Some smuggled ivory is intercepted
"Leaving the burden on developing countries is very unfair. The G8 countries, the most developed economies, should do more to help the third world."

Africa's elephant population is thought to have more than halved, to about 600,000 animals, between the late 1970s and 1989.

Some experts believe it has continued its precipitous decline, leaving barely 300,000 elephants today.

Rapid plunge

Asia is thought to have fewer than 50,000 wild elephants: Ifaw puts the total at about 35,000.

Dr Leakey said Asia's elephants were facing "a terrible crisis, with India's situation deplorable. And most of it has happened in the last 10 years."

From 1 January 2000 to 21 May 2002, 965 African elephants were reported killed by poachers, and 39 Asian elephants.

The ivory poachers are not the elephants' only enemy. Recent reports from the Central African Republic describe elephant carcases stripped of their flesh but with the tusks still in place, suggesting the bushmeat trade is worth more than the ivory.

Only male Asian elephants have tusks, though both sexes do in Africa. Zoologists now recognise at least two distinct African species, the savannah and the forest elephant, with a possible third species, the western African elephant.

Images copyright and courtesy of Ifaw

Director of London and Whipsnade Zoos Chris West
"We're hoping the guide will be adopted by European zoos and elsewhere"
See also:

04 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 May 02 | Science/Nature
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