for National Geographic News
Sky-high demand is feeding a renewed flood of illegal ivory sales in Africa, posing a serious threat to the continent's elephants, conservationists say.
"The ivory trade is starting to come back, and it's really a concern," said Tom Milliken, eastern and southern Africa director for TRAFFIC who is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
TRAFFIC is an international wildlife-trade monitoring program sponsored by the global conservation group WWF and the World Conservation Union.
In a recent pass through the open-air markets of Angola's capital city of Luanda, TRAFFIC researchers identified enough ivory to account for the slaughter of 250 elephants.
(Related news: "African Elephants Slaughtered in Herds Near Chad Wildlife Park" [August 30, 2006].)
But Angola's estimated elephant population is only 240, suggesting that much of the ivory is coming from animals killed in neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Of the 37 countries that harbor African elephants, Angola is the only one not a member of CITES, an international treaty that monitors illegal trade in species identified as endangered by member governments.
Milliken says that lack of CITES membership is helping to turn Angola into a major conduit for illegally obtained ivory.
Angola is recovering from a civil war, and today thousands of foreign business and aid workers are stationed in Luanda to help rebuild the country (Angola map).
On their days off, many foreign workers head for open-air craft markets south of the city, Milliken says.
"There you find many, many vendors—mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo—selling a whole vast array of ivory specimens," he said.
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