Nations Reach Illegal Ivory Trade Deal, Classify Wildlife Trafficking A 'Serious Crime'

Elephants help an elephant calf up a slope after fording the Ewaso Nyiro river in Samburu game reserve on May 8, 2013. UNEP g
Elephants help an elephant calf up a slope after fording the Ewaso Nyiro river in Samburu game reserve on May 8, 2013. UNEP goodwill ambassador and Chinese actress Li Bingbing was on an official visit in Kenya to highlight issues of Africa's poaching crisis. AFP PHOTO/Carl de Souza (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Delegates from 30 countries gathered at the first ever African Elephant Summit this week to discuss urgent measures to protect elephants and agreed to try to put an end to the illegal ivory trade.

The elephant population has plummeted in recent years as poaching has led to the deaths of hundreds of elephants in African countries. To curb further population loss due to poaching, nations from Kenya to China agreed to certain crucial measures, such as taking a zero tolerance stance on illegal ivory trade.

Wildlife trafficking involving organized criminal groups will now be considered a "serious crime" subject to international law enforcement, summit organizer International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a statement.

Other measures included increasing interagency cooperation, strengthening national laws governing wildlife crime and mobilizing financial and technical resources to better combat the illegal ivory trade.

Key African and Asian countries attended the summit, which was convened by the government of Botswana and IUCN, held in Gaborone over several days. Attendees including African countries with large elephant populations (Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia), ivory transit states (Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia) and destination states (China and Thailand).

While all 30 countries agreed to the urgent measures proposed Tuesday, only six signed the illegal ivory trade deal, the Agence France-Presse notes.

"Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act," Botswana President Ian Khama said during the summit, according to the Associated Press. "Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species."

The illegal ivory trade has become a serious problem in recent years, as African countries have seen a considerable rise in elephant poaching. A recent report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species notes that as many as 20 percent of Africa's population of elephants could be killed in the next decade if poaching continues at the current rate. In 2012, an estimated 22,000 elephants were illegally killed across the continent, the report states.

"Enduring poverty and rampant corruption, fueled by an increasing demand from Asia, are creating an impossible situation for Africa's elephants," IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre said during the summit, according to Xinhua News Agency.

"We must address the issue of organized crime in ivory trafficking, and help to ensure that those responsible are apprehended and held accountable for their crimes," she added.

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