Angola to host 2016 world environment day themed around the fight against the $19bn illegal wildlife trade

Angola is to host the 2016 World Environment Day (WED) celebrations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Angolan government announced today at the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris.

The southern African country, which is seeking to conserve its biodiversity-rich wildlife and rebuild its elephant population, hopes to raise awareness about illegal wildlife trade and send a message on its efforts to eradicate it, by hosting WED. Holding June 5 every year, WED is the single biggest day for positive action on the environment worldwide. The theme next year will be around the fight against the illegal wildlife trade which is threatening the efforts of Angola to rebuild an elephant population decimated by decades-long civil war and illegal wildlife trade valued at $19 billion.

“Angola is delighted to host World Environment Day, which will focus on an issue close to our hearts,” said Angolan Environment Minister Maria de Fatima Jardim. “The illegal wildlife trade, particularly the trade in ivory and rhino horn, is a major problem across our continent,” she notes.

Very little is known about the size of Angola’s remaining elephant population, which historically lived in the southeast of the country, also crossing the borders to neighbouring countries.

The Great Elephant Census, the first aerial survey of known elephant ranges in Angola, is underway in an attempt to build a clearer picture of the population in the Kaza Area of the country. The information collected will be used in the government’s elephant inventory programme and for the conservation of wild habitats in the Okavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and the Cuando-Cubango province. In fellow African country, Tanzania, where a census was recently conducted, it was discovered that around 85,000 elephants were lost to poaching between 2009 and 2014.

As part of its commitment to end illegal trade, Angola is revising its Penal Code to bring in tougher punishments for poachers.

“This year we have seen significant steps to combat the illegal wildlife trade, including the first United Nations resolution on wildlife trafficking, which called for it to be treated as a serious crime both nationally and across borders,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

“World Environment Day 2016 will highlight these efforts in a country itself committed to eliminating this scourge. UNEP looks forward to partnering with Angola to raise awareness of the issue and accelerate the action that will protect species, ecosystems and livelihoods from extinction.”

Across Africa, more elephants have been killed in recent years than have died of natural causes, and for forest elephants in Central and West Africa, the population declined by an estimated 60 per cent between 2002 and 2011. Nearly 100 elephants are poached per day due to demand for ivory in Asia where ivory costs $850 per kilo.

This year is one to be remembered in the history of the fight against illegal ivory trade. Boniface Matthew Mariango, nicknamed The Devil or Shetani (in Kiswahili), who is directly responsible for the killing of thousands of elephants and managed over 15 poaching syndicates in Burundi, Mozambique, southern Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia for years was arrested by Tanzanian law enforcement authorities. This happened weeks after the notorious Queen of Ivory Yang Feng Glan was arrested. Mariango is the ringleader of a poaching network directly supplying Feng Glan.

However, the fight continues.