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Gabon Seeks to Stop Illegal Ivory Trade

  • Peter Clottey

Soldiers arrange a pyre of elephant tusks and thousands of pieces of worked ivory as they prepare to burn ivory stocks corresponding to roughly 850 dead elephants, in Libreville, Gabon, June 27, 2012.
Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, is scheduled to symbolically burn about five tons of seized ivory stock Wednesday.

The Ministry of Water and Forests and the National Parks Agency confiscated the large ivory stock from poachers, who have been illegally hunting the country’s elephants.

Lee White, director of the national park service, said Bongo wants to emphasize his administration’s fight against ivory trafficking and the need for the international community to support efforts to limit the poaching of elephants.

“The president is sending a very strong message to the poachers to say that Gabon is getting very serious about stopping this crisis,” said White, “[and] to the international community to say that we are doing our bit to stop this illegal trade, but this is really an international problem. There wouldn’t be ivory poaching in Gabon if there weren’t the market in Asia, and elsewhere, for ivory, and so the only solution is an international solution.”

Experts say Gabon has about 13 percent of Africa’s rain forest cover. According to White, the latest survey conducted by international organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation, show that Gabon has about 50 percent of the surviving forest elephants left on continent.

“That means that the poachers are targeting Gabon. So, the pressure is increasing in Gabon, and in response [to] that, [the] government has to take very strong measures,” said White. “So, for the last two years, the National Parks staff has doubled and the state budget for the parks has increased by a factor of 10, and the government has sent in troops to support the national park and forestry staff in the places where we have severe poaching problems.”

White said the government has signed into law a unit of the gendarmerie, or national police, a special armed unit comprising 250 people, who are being tasked with specially supporting the national parks and forestry staff to protect elephants and other wildlife from poaching.

He said the foreigners are often behind the poaching of elephants and other wildlife.

“Most of the poachers in Gabon are foreign nationals and so the president is sending a very strong message to those people that wildlife crime is not going to be tolerated in Gabon. He is also sending a strong message that Gabon is very serious about natural reserves governance and that we put very high political priority on managing the natural treasures that we have in the country,” White said.

“Our hope is that that will encourage our partners to provide more support to us, more training, financial support, to enable us [to] manage the national treasures in Gabon, and also to encourage tourism investors, that they can count on Gabon as a very serious partner… and that we will do our part to make sure their investments are viable in the long term,” said White.