Botswana conference heightens alarm over illegal wildlife

Conservation experts meeting in Botswana today issued dire warnings over the booming illegal wildlife trade that threatens the survival of elephants, rhinos, tigers and other endangered species.

Stressing that poaching was “growing problem”, delegates from 30 countries underlined their commitment to pledges made at a conference in London last year that was hailed as a turning point in the fight to protect rare animals.

But the event in the town of Kasane came up with few new ideas on how the tackle the damage wrought by illegal traffickers on species ranging from elephants and tigers to sea turtles and pangolins.

“Important battles are being won as remedial efforts increase in quality and quantity, but overall the picture remains deeply worrying,” said Steve Broad, director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group.

“Illicit trafficking of tiger skin and bones remains persistent. The parts of almost 1,600 tigers were seized in tiger-range countries over the past 15 years.

“With barely more than 3,000 tigers left in the wild, such levels of illegal trade are disastrous.”

The conference ended with a declaration stressing the need to improve cooperation between countries on trading routes, to strengthen prosecution mechanisms, and to ensure local communities benefit from conservation.

“Despite efforts to date for many species, the illegal trade, and the poaching which fuels it, is an ongoing and growing problem,” the delegates’ final statement said.

The outcome of the much-heralded conference sparked anger among some conservation groups.

“It is appalling that countries like Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)… Can’t show any headway whatsoever in slowing the slaughter,” Jason Bell, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said in a statement.

“In Garamba National Park in the DRC, 30 elephants were killed in the week running up to this conference.”

The IFAW said that 15 of the 41 countries which signed up to last year’s London declaration had provided no evidence that they were delivering on their commitments.