Somalia on Wednesday signed to join The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), an African-led program aimed at ending ivory trade.
Minister for Livestock and Pasture, Said Hussein Iid, said Somalia’s rich environmental history had for long been overshadowed by the long-drawn civil war.
“However, it is our hope that by joining the EPI, we can work to slowly rebuild this history and join together with other African nations to stop the harrowing consequences that elephant poaching and trafficking is bringing to our continent,” Hussein said in Nairobi, Kenya.
According to a statement from UK-based conservation group Stop Ivory issued in Nairobi, Somalia which was once known as a place of rich biodiversity became the 14th African nation to sign on to the EPI since its inception in 2014.
Stop Ivory CEO John Stephenson said: “It is crunch time for Africa’s elephants and without a stop to the poaching, killing, trafficking and trade, their populations will continue to fade.”
“Somalia’s joining the EPI also shows the growing strength of Africa’s voice in taking a stand against illegal wildlife trade and trafficking,” Stephenson said.
The Horn of Africa nation has seen its wildlife populations decline rapidly with only small pockets of wildlife roaming freely in some parts of the country.
Conservationists say constant pressures from overgrazing, charcoal production, poaching and an open ivory market, coupled with a 20-year civil war, have created a conservation wilderness in a region that was once said to host one of Africa’s largest wildlife populations.
Keith Roberts, executive director for wildlife trafficking at the U.S.-based NGO Conservation International, said the signing of the initiative was a momentous occasion for the EPI and for Somalia ahead of the upcoming Johannesburg Conference of the Parties to CITES, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.
“The EPI has come a long way in a short time in preparation for this event and Somalia joining us recognizes the commitment and attention that African leaders are giving to ensuring the protection of the continents’ elephant populations and to putting a stop to the trade that is fuelling the poaching crisis,” said Roberts.
According to conservationists, international demand for ivory and rhino horn is fuelling shocking declines in the elephant throughout Africa.
In 1979, approximately 1.2 million elephants roamed the continent, but by 2012 as few as 500,000 African elephants remained in the wild.
Poachers kill an estimated 25,000 African elephants every year with some evidence suggesting that if poaching and trade persists at this level, most African elephant populations will disappear in the next decade.
The EPI was launched by leaders from Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania during the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in February 2014.
Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Angola, Congo and the Gambia have since also joined the EPI.