2011 worst year in decades for endangered elephants

THIS year has perhaps been the worst for elephants since ivory sales were banned in 1989, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

A record number of large seizures of elephant tusks represents at least 2,500 dead animals and shows that organised crime is increasingly involved in the illegal ivory trade and the poaching that feeds it, the group said.

It is not clear how many elephants were recently killed in Africa for their tusks, but experts are alarmed.

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Traffic’s elephant and rhino expert Tom Milliken thinks criminals may have the upper hand in the war to save rare and endangered animals.

“As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning,” Mr Milliken said.

Most cases involve ivory being smuggled from Africa into Asia, where growing wealth has fed the desire for ivory ornaments and for rhino horn, used in traditional medicine.

“The escalation in ivory trade and elephant and rhino killing is being driven by the Asian syndicates that are now firmly enmeshed within African societies,” Mr Milliken said. “There are more Asians than ever before in the history of the continent, and this is one of the repercussions.”

All statistics are not yet in, and no one can say how much ivory is getting through undetected, but “what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800 kilograms in weight, that have taken place in 2011,” Traffic said.