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Wildlife Group Says Angola's Illicit Ivory Trade Growing

Of the 37 countries in Africa that have wild elephants, only one - Angola - has not ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which seeks to combat the threat to plants and animals posed by the international wildlife trade. A just-released survey says that last year more than 1.5 tons of ivory products were for sale on markets in Angola.

A joint study by the World Wildlife Fund and a wildlife trade monitoring network known as TRAFFIC says Angola's illicit ivory trade is booming, with sales doubling over the last 12 to 18 months. According to the study, uncontrolled poaching of the country's elephants is threatening their survival.

The head of the World Wildlife Fund's Africa Elephant Program, Peter Stephenson, tells VOA the amount of ivory products on sale in Angola represent the tusks of at least 300 African elephants. He also says many of those selling the products are not from Angola.

"What we found in this study was that a good three quarters of the people trying to sell the ivory seem to come from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo," said Peter Stephenson. "And, this in fact, fits in with other information we have uncovered as we have studied ivory markets in a lot of countries across Africa. And that is that places like DRC that have also had a civil war, and where controls are not as good as they used to be, [are] a major source of a lot of the ivory that is then being distributed throughout Africa and sold in markets, such as the one in Luanda."

Stephenson says most of the ivory curios were being purchased by American, European and Chinese buyers, presumably for illegal export to their native countries.

Since Angola has not ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, there is little that can be done to regulate and control trade in ivory in Angola. However, Stephenson also acknowledges that not all countries that have ratified CITES have implemented its rules.

He says a study of domestic markets across Africa uncovered illicit sales of ivory. He says in places such as Lagos, Nigeria, Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Maputo, Mozambique many people that are selling ivory locally also are exporting it.

"What we also know is that that ivory is not from the countries concerned," he said. "Ivory is being imported illegally across borders to fuel that domestic market. So, it is actually a very complicated process. Elephants are being poached heavily, especially in central Africa. The ivory is then being moved out to various cities where there are a lot of traders and a lot of visitors and then this ivory is being taken by those buyers out to other countries and beyond. And, this is very disturbing. It is basically driving the culling, we think, or the illegal killing of up to 12,000 elephants a year at the moment in Africa just to fuel these illegal markets."

Because of Angola's long-running civil war, which ended just four years ago, no one has taken a proper census of that country's elephant population for more than 30 years. However, Stephenson says it is estimated that in the 1980s, Angola probably had about 12,000 elephants. He says conservationists now believe heavy poaching in that country may have reduced the herd to just a couple of hundred elephants.