Poaching is decimating the elephant population in Gabon and the rest of the continent. In the last decade, over 15,000 of Gabon’s 22,000 elephants have been killed by poachers in Minkebe National Park. The battle to save these animals is reaching crisis levels, with Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba requesting help to fight this illegal trade. Twelve British soldiers have responded to Ondimba’s call.
The Northern Ireland-based soldiers will work with local rangers at a training center in Mokekou, the BBC reports. The troops, who come from the Royal Scots Borderers, the Rifles and other specialist corps, will help on a tactical level. They will share operational expertise with local rangers, which includes surveillance, analysis and use of criminal intelligence to target and prosecute poachers, UTV reports.
The operation will be led by Major Mark Shercliff, who told UTV that “military input cannot solve this alone, but it can help at the tactical level.”
“There is a lot of work to be done above us all in the political sphere, by getting countries around the world to combat poaching in a way that is joined up. This is not a phenomenon that belongs to the single country or single continent,” he added
The international trade of ivory has been banned since in 1989, but poaching continues. Recent estimates suggest up to 30,000 African elephants are killed every year for their ivory. Africa was home to more than 1.3 million elephants, but fewer than 419,000 now remain. The World Wildlife Fund warns that the African elephant could become locally extinct in some parts of Africa within 50 years if current rates of population decline continue.
Gabon was the first country in central Africa to burn the government-held stockpile of ivory in 2012. Conservationists hoped the stunt would send a message to those who supply the market. Following the “Ivory Crush” event where one ton of ivory was destroyed, Obama announced sweeping new measures to restrict the sale of ivory within the U.S. The U.S. and China make up the world’s largest market for ivory product sales.
[H/T: The BBC]