By Burak Bir – AA.com
Forest elephants are allies in the fight against climate change, by helping other animals and plants to grow
An unregulated ivory market, expansion of human settlements and issues of governance in many African countries, are hitting the population of elephants.
It is believed that in absence of conservation efforts, the steamroller of the wild, may become extinct by the end of next decade.
“Around 20,000 African elephants are being killed every year for their ivory,” Marsden Momanyi, wildlife practice manager of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told Anadolu Agency. On an average, every day 55 elephants are killed, out of the lust for ivory products.
Estimates show that at illicit wildlife trade has turned out to become the fourth biggest international organized crime, worth over a whopping $18 billion every year.
Elephants, known as jumbos of forest, are vital for the ecosystem and the biodiversity.
“They help to maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integral to the biodiversity,” said Momanyi, on occasion of the “World Elephants Day” celebrated every year on Aug 12.
“Elephants clean and create gaps in the canopy that encourages tree regeneration. In the savannas, they reduce bush cover to create an environment favorable, to a mix of browsing and grazing animals,” he explained.
The expert believed that at least a third of tree species in the forests of Central Africa need elephants to distribute their seeds.
Momanyi said the rampant poaching, out of greed for ivories and loss of habitat, were two major threat to the elephant population. Besides, the governance issues in various African countries are also hitting the animal.
“Around 90% of African elephants have been wiped out in the past century, mainly due to the ivory trade.” he said.
Fascination for Ivory biggest threat
Even when most countries have taken strict measures, people continue to get fascinated to showcase ivory based jewelry, statuettes, furniture, musical instruments, weapons, billiard balls, miniature paintings and other decorative items in their drawing rooms.
“Since World War II most of the international trade has gone to Asia, rather than Europe or North America,” he said. He added that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had put a ban on ivory trade in 1989.
He further said that an unregulated domestic ivory market in number of countries, such as in Vietnam fuels the illegal international trade.
Elephants are not only an import part of biodiversity, but have historic significance culturally throughout Asia and Africa. For many cultures the elephant is also an exotic animal. The Hindus worship Ganesha, a deity having a human form and the head of an elephant.
According to the TRAFFIC — the wildlife trade monitoring network — African elephants are most sought after species by poachers, followed by pangolins, African rhinos, tigers, tropical timber, abalone (shell fish) etc.
Momanyi said the WWF was working to conserve elephants in Asia and Africa, through specific programs, to improve elephant protection and management capacity. The program includes ways to mitigate human-elephant conflict, and reduce poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
“They [the WWF] are also training wildlife managers and local communities, by using modern methods in order to raise public support and awareness.
The WWF was established in 1961 as an international fundraising organization, to work in collaboration with existing conservation groups and bring substantial financial support to the conservation movement internationally.