French President François Hollande called on the “conscience of consumer countries” to put an end to the rampant poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa, during a speech to African presidents on Thursday.
The roundtable was held the day before the beginning of the Africa-France Heads of State Summit where leaders will discuss peace and security on the continent.
“WWF congratulates the French government for its stand against wildlife criminality,” according to Bas Huijbregts, head of WWF’s campaign against wildlife criminality in Central Africa.
“The measures announced by Hollande today are those needed to save Africa’s elephants and rhinos from extinction.”
“Particularly commendable was his call on ending consumption, increasing fines for traffickers in France tenfold, the proposed cooperation with African customs organizations, the destruction of its seized ivory stock, and the harmonization of legal deterrents,” Huijbregts explained.
Rising demand for elephant ivory and rhino horns – especially in East Asia – has led to an epidemic of poaching across the whole African continent.
According to data at the beginning of the Elephant Summit in Gabarone, Botswana, on Monday, 22,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2012, out of a remaining population of around 500,000. Major ivory seizures in 2013 are, now at 41 tons, already a record high since measures began.
Rhino populations are even more at risk. Over 800 rhinoceroses where killed so far this year in South Africa alone, out of a remaining population of 25,000 throughout the continent.
“Our generation could be the one which witnesses the extinction of Africa’s most emblematic animals: rhinos, elephants, hippos and great apes,” Hollande said.
Poaching and illegal wildlife trade, far from being just an environmental issue, also have an impact on peace and security in the continent, the French president said.
In May of this year United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that poaching and illegal wildlife trade – with its potential link to criminal, even terrorist activities – pose a grave menace to peace and security in Central Africa.
“The link between poaching and peace and security has been well established,” Huijbregts said.
“This is why it is absolutely crucial that this issue be discussed during the peace and security summit in the coming 2 days, and the results of the roundtable are included in its final declaration.”
“Furthermore, although we congratulate the French government for announcing strong measures in France, the killing can only be stopped in Africa.”
“Therefore, we hope that African heads of state follow suit, and announce concrete measures to fight poaching and illegal wildlife trade throughout the continent, including by adopting the Marrakech declaration.”
This Marrakech declaration is a 10 point action plan, which highlights the necessity of coordinated action, particularly on an international level, in order to combat illicit wildlife trafficking, through cooperation with the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime, which includes CITES, INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.
“Missing from the Marrakech Declaration and the announcement of Hollande today, is the issue of corruption,” Huijbregts said.
“We urge heads of states to declare that there will be zero tolerance for corruption of any government official involved in wildlife criminality.”
“The creation of UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Wildlife Criminality, as proposed by Gabon and Germany in September, would further hold government accountable to their international commitments,” Huijbregts concluded.