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Gabon to burn ivory stockpiles

Forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The government of Gabon has announced it will burn its stockpiles of ivory later this year in a bid to undercut illegal elephant poaching, which is decimating populations in central Africa.

“The burning of a country’s entire ivory stockpile will be an historic conservation event in Africa, and a strong deterrent signal for all the actors in the illegal wildlife chain trade,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist with WWF Central Africa in a press release.

Ahead of burning the stockpile, Gabon is conducting an independent inventory of its ivory by experts from WWF as well as TRAFFIC.

Elephant poaching is on the rise in Africa, especially plaguing populations in central Africa. Researchers estimate that up to 12,000 elephants may be killed by poaching annually in central Africa alone, but hard data is difficult to come by. Poached ivory is smuggled from Africa to East Asia where it is carved into decorative items.

Recently, a group of poachers on horseback decimated elephant populations in Cameroon’s remote Bouba Ndjida National Park with impunity. Over 400 elephants were killed over several weeks, before the Cameroonian military was called in.

“If Gabon’s lead is replicated region-wide, we could see real progress being made in tackling elephant poaching and putting the criminal syndicates behind it out of business,” said Stephane Ringuet, TRAFFIC’s Central African Director who is inventorying Gabon’s ivory.

African elephants are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. However, scientists have recently found that there are likely two species of elephant in Africa: the more common savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), which inhabits the Congo rainforest. The forest elephant is smaller than its savanna cousin and sports straighter tusks. It is also likely more endangered due to poaching.

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