The UN Security Council is cracking down on ivory hunters and traffickers who finance armed groups in Africa in a new initiative which has been welcomed by conservationists.
Two resolutions adopted by the council last week — one relating to the Central African Republic (CAR), the other to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) — stated that the trade in illegal wildlife was fueling conflicts in the region and bankrolling organized crime.
Under the resolutions, the council can apply sanctions, such as freezing assets or restricting travel, on any individual found to be involved in wildlife trafficking.
The resolutions were primarily designed to target a number of armed rebel groups operating in the eastern region of the DR Congo.
The UN also suspects the Lord’s Resistance Army run by warlord Joseph Kony of using illegal ivory trade to generate finances.
Other groups believed to benefit from the illegal wildlife trade include Somalian Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and Sudan’s Janjaweed militia.
“This is the first time that a United Nations Security Council sanctions regime has targeted wildlife poachers and traffickers,” World Wildlife Fund species program manager Wendy Elliott said. “It should act as a deterrent.”
The resolution means that traffickers can now be targeted by officials from different government agencies such as interior and finance ministries, as well as customs.
Since 2009, the trade in poaching has escalated to near industrial levels, with more than 500kg of ivory seized worldwide, threatening elephants and rhinos with extinction despite the existence of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
An estimated 60 elephants are slain each day in Africa, where the total number of the animals has plummeted by half since 1980 to just 500,000.
In May last year, taking advantage of the chaos embroiling the CAR, poachers armed with Kalashnikov assault weapons killed at least 26 animals in the fabled village of elephants, a reserve set up at Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site, the WWF said.
If the slaughter continues at the same rate, Africa stands to lose 20 percent of its elephant population over the next decade, according to projected estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The illegal trade in ivory and other wildlife is the fourth most lucrative revenue stream for criminal gangs in Africa after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. Ivory can fetch up to US$2,000 per kilogram on the black market in Asia, its most common destination.
The UN and conservationists want a twin-pronged approach, targeting both producers of ivory in Africa — including countries such as Gabon, Kenya, Zambia, DR Congo, CAR and Uganda — and consumer countries such as China and Thailand.
Transit countries on ivory smuggling routes, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysia and Vietnam, would also be targeted.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has convened a summit on the trafficking of endangered species on Wednesday and Thursday next week.