Ivory killing puts African elephants on danger list

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More African elephants are being illegally slaughtered for their ivory than are being born each year – with organised ­criminal gangs cashing in on runaway poaching which could soon threaten populations in some regions, a new report says.

Demand for ivory as an ornamental item is soaring in Asia, driven by the rising purchasing power of the region’s newly affluent classes, alongside growing Chinese investment in Africa.

The report by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the International Union for Conservation of Nature and wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic said gangs in the trade ran little risk of being caught.

“Organised criminal networks are cashing in on the elephant poaching crisis, trafficking ivory in unprecedented volumes and operating with relative impunity and with little fear of prosecution,” said Tom Milliken, Traffic’s ivory trade expert.

At sites under observation by the Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike) programme, home to about 40 per cent of Africa’s elephants, the report said 17,000 animals died in 2011, or 7.4 per cent of the populatio.

It said: “Healthy elephant populations have a natural annual growth rate of between 5 and 6 per cent.”

The killing rate has risen, with around 11,500 elephants estimated to have been killed illegally in these areas in 2010. Data from the first six months of 2012 suggest its final toll will be similar to 17,000 animals killed in 2011.

The overall number of ­elephants taken for their ivory is almost certainly higher, as many parts of the continent are not being monitored effectively for such activity.