Angola has announced a major push against the ivory trade, pledging to close one of the largest domestic ivory markets in the world and implement tougher border and screening controls.
The Southern African nation also promised to fulfill its commitments under the UN Environment Programme-hosted Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), including stepping up its efforts to implement its National Ivory Action Plan.
The tough new stance comes as Angola firms up plans to play global host to World Environment Day (WED) on June 5th. This year’s WED, organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is themed on tackling the illegal trade in wildlife, and aims to mobilize global action around the issue.
“The Commission Against Environmental Crimes has presented a decree banning the sale of ivory and ivory artifacts in Angola and we are deploying a wildlife crime unit at Luanda’s international airport. We are determined to end the trade in ivory and build a new Angola, in which both people and our unique species can thrive,” Angola’s Environment Minister Maria de Fatima Jardim said at a meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Cairo.
As a signal of its intent, Angola has also joined twelve other nations as a signatory to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), which focuses on protecting African elephants through measures such as closing domestic markets. Angola aims to end all domestic trading in ivory, undertake a robust inventory of its stockpile and commit to its destruction before World Environment Day.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “The illegal trade in wildlife destroys ecosystems and livelihoods, compromises rule of law and national security, and undermines sustainable development. In the last few years we have seen strong steps to combat this scourge, including the first UN resolution on wildlife trafficking. Angola’s commitments are another milestone and send a powerful message to poachers, and the international criminal networks that back them, that they have no future.”
Angola has already begun engaging with traders in Luanda’s Benfica market, where large amounts of carved ivory are on sale amidst stalls that also sell legal souvenirs to foreign visitors.
“We have informed traders of our intention to halt ivory sales in Benfica market, but we must take care to ensure we do not drive the trade underground, making it more difficult to eradicate,” said Abias Huongo, Director of the National Institute for Biodiversity and Conservation Areas.
In late 2015, Angola hosted the International Conference of the Africa Prosecutors’ Association. The resulting Cuando-Cubando Declaration calls for strengthened international cooperation within the framework of CITES. As part of this activity, under the World Environment Day platform, Angola will look to engage foreign businesses in making pledges to drive change.
“African elephant populations continue to face a very real and immediate threat to their survival from unacceptably high levels of poaching for their ivory, including in Angola,” said John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. “We are pleased to see the progress being been made on the ground in implementing Angola’s National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP).
“Winning the fight against elephant poaching and the smuggling of ivory will depend upon the front line actions taken across range, transit and destination states, and we welcome the additional measures being taken by Angola to bring these highly destructive wildlife crimes to an end.”
Little is known about the size of Angola’s remaining elephant population, which historically lived in the southeast of the country. However, the results of recent surveys, due to be released in the coming months, are anticipated to confirm heavy population declines during Angola’s decades-long civil war.
WED—the single biggest day for positive action on the environment worldwide—is this year themed around the illegal trade in wildlife to prompt further awareness and action to combat illegal trade in CITES-protected species.
The number of elephants killed in Africa has exceeded 20,000 a year out of a projected population of 420,000 to 650,000. But with reports that 100,000 elephants were killed in just a three-year period between 2010 and 2012, the population figures may now in fact be lower.
Figures released on World Wildlife Day (March 3rd) by CITES, based on its Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, found that the most serious levels of poaching were recorded in Central and West Africa. Forest elephants in that region have declined by over 60 per cent in a decade.
A troubling upward trend in elephant poaching was, for the first time, observed in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, where populations were formerly thought to be secure—highlighting that enforcement must be combined with global action on demand to ensure poaching is stamped out.
For rhinos, poaching has seen a steady increase in the last ten years. In South Africa alone, rhino poaching increased by about 9,000 percent between 2007 and 2015. Last year, 1,175 rhinos were poached in the country – roughly one rhino every eight hours.
Other measures to reverse the trend include the African Elephant Action Plan, developed under CITES and implemented through the UNEP-hosted African Elephant Fund, and developing an Electronic Permits Information Exchange System to reduce the likelihood of corruption.
The World Environment Day is celebrated every 5th of June.