The African elephant may not survive for long given the level of sophistication adopted by poachers.
And, joining the largest living land mammal on the endangered list are six other species in six African countries, according to findings by a team of conservationists drawn from across the continent who have been monitoring regional poaching trends since last year.
The team, comprising experts from the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Police, the Lusaka Agreement Taskforce and Interpol, on Tuesday told of the growing level of refinement being used by poachers to rob the continent of one of its most valuable assets.
“Formerly, the poachers used rudimentary weapons such as bows and arrows, but they have now acquired firearms,” said KWS deputy director in charge of security Peter Leitoro. “The level of sophistication is really high.”
Statistics indicate that the country lost 47 elephants in 2007 to poachers, but that figure more than tripled in 2008 to 145.
By the end of last month, Kenya had lost 216 elephants to the criminals, and KWS had managed to seize 1,087 kilogrammes of ivory.
The vice has seen the elephant population drop from 167,000 in 1973 to only 30,000 in 2005, a trend that the team blamed on the partial lifting of the ban on trading on elephant products by the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) in 2005.
Kenya then mounted an unsuccessful bid to impose a 20-year moratorium on commercial ivory trade at a CITES meeting in Bangkok, but South Africa and Botswana, among others, had their way.
At the time, Kenya argued that failure to effect the ban would encourage poaching in Africa, further endangering between 400,000 and 660,000 elephants.
CITES is the world’s biggest treaty regulating trade in wildlife, but conservationists complain that member states are not doing enough to enforce its rules.
Tanzania and Zambia have become the latest to request to downlist their elephant population, but Kenya Wildlife Service yesterday was adamant that it would not support such an initiative, potentially putting Kenya on a collision course with its East African neighbour.
“If we allow any country to sell ivory, we will, in essence, spur poaching across the continent, because it is not easy to establish a tusk’s country of origin once it enters the market,” explained the KWS head of species, Mr Patrick Omondi.