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West African States agree on urgent conservation measures to save the world's largest terrestrial mammal
09/ 04/ 2009

West African States agree on urgent conservation measures to save the world's largest terrestrial mammalGovernments and international conservation bodies agreed on steps to protect the African elephant.

Bonn, 9 April 2009 - At the first meeting of the signatories to the CMS agreement to conserve West African populations of the African Elephant, governments and international conservation bodies agreed on steps to stop the depletion and the loss of their habitat. Representatives of 13 West African countries as well as wildlife agencies attended the meeting in Accra, Ghana on 30-31 March 2009. A joint meeting of representatives from CMS and the CITES programme MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) also took place the following day in Accra.

In West Africa, major declines of elephant populations occurred well before the turn of the 20th century and the population has remained at low levels ever since. The loss of habitat and illegal killing has raised deep concerns about the future of this endangered, highly charismatic species. An estimated 90 per cent of elephants' habitat in West Africa has been destroyed. Elephant habitats include both humid forest and the arid Sahel. With human settlements encroaching ever further into elephant habitats, elephants have less space and the number of human-elephant conflicts is increasing. Roads and railways also split the elephant range into isolated populations. Two-thirds of the currently existing populations contain less than 100 elephants, but only larger groups have a chance for long-term survival.

At the meeting, delegates agreed on a 3-year work programme from 2009-2011, which was also endorsed by representatives of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CMS, as the lead organization, announced that it would provide EUR 30,000 towards its implementation.

Local communities and NGO partners such as the IUCN and WWF will study seasonal cross-border migrations of the species. Genetic studies of forest and savannah elephants will provide information necessary for their management. Economic benefits through ecotourism and other sources will promote a peaceful coexistence of elephants and local populations. Training of guards and community representatives will enhance capacities and support the implementation of protection measures.

A major objective is to reduce the continuous loss of elephant habitat. The creation of new migration corridors and alternative elephant habitats is intended to mitigate conflicts between elephants and humans. Involving local communities in finding solutions to the causes of conflicts is essential. Accompanying measures such as outreach campaigns will focus on schools and the targeted distribution of publications.

An important threat to elephants remains illegal ivory trade. Following a decision taken at a recent CITES conference, government representatives have now decided to strictly implement an action plan to enhance controls and deal with illegal domestic ivory markets, which are still flourishing in parts of Africa. Regional governments will also work together to obtain information about poaching, train field officers and guards and provide them with the necessary equipment. In addition, a technical network among the countries will monitor elephant migrations.

The results from the first meeting were taken up at the joint meeting of representatives from CMS and the CITES programme MIKE. Delegates developed joint project proposals where their respective governments could collaborate in selected a trans-boundary areas.

CMS Executive Secretary Robert Hepworth said: "The results of the two meetings will make a real difference for the conservation of elephants in West Africa. Elephants play a key role in maintaining forest and savannah ecosystems. We have provided the platform for countries, UN agencies, NGOs, research institutions and local communities to work together to halt the decline of one of the most remarkable animal species and their habitats."

Notes to editors

The Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the West African Populations of the African Elephant (MoU) provides an international framework for range state governments, scientists and conservation groups to collaborate on the conservation of elephant populations and their habitats. It was concluded under the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and entered into force on 23 November 2005 in close cooperation with the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC). 13 states have signed the agreement: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

CITES participated as an observer at the CMS MoU meeting and jointly hosted the CMS-MoU/CITES-MIKE meeting with CMS. CMS and CITES concluded a MoU that sets out a framework for cooperation between the two organizations in 2002.

Veronika Lenarz
UNEP/CMS Secretariat
Public Information
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Further Resources
Convention on Migratory Species