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Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in December in Kenya's coastal Tana River Delta but in mid-February began an unexpected march northwards to Somalia, reaching the border nearly three weeks later (AFP Photo/) More Nairobi (AFP) - An elephant marched hundreds of kilometres and briefly crossed into Somalia this month marking the first time the animal has been seen in the country in 20 years, conservationists said Wednesday. Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in December in Kenya's coastal Tana River Delta, but in mid-February began an unexpected march northwards to Somalia, reaching the border nearly three weeks later. His march has excited conservationists who say it shows the elephant remembered ancient routes after decades of absence due to war. "He obviously had something in his mind about where he's going," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, a conservation organisation that has put tracking collars on hundreds of African elephants. Morgan's journey suggests that the Kenya-Somalia border area is becoming less dangerous and that if security were to return to southern Somalia so might the exiled elephants. From Tana River, Morgan trudged 20 kilometres (12 miles) on the first night and then hid in thick forest the following day, before continuing his march under cover of darkness. He maintained this pattern for the next 18 days. "He's adopted this extreme form of survival strategy to traverse one of the most dangerous places for elephants in their African range," said Douglas-Hamilton. African elephants are threatened everywhere by criminal poaching gangs and armed groups, who kill them for their tusks, the ivory fetching around $1,100 (1,000 euros) per kilogramme (2.2 pounds) in China. At least 20,000 elephants were killed last year, according to figures released this month by the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international organisation. In some parts of Africa elephants are being killed quicker than they reproduce, but Kenya has seen recent successes with the number of elephants poached in 2015 falling to 93 from 164 the previous year. In the early 1970s it is estimated there were as many as 20,000 elephants in Kenya's coastal area, but that number has fallen to 300 at most today. Some credit a Kenyan security operation in the area with suppressing poaching. "We're seeing more elephants now," said Charles Omondi, a commander in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which is patrolling the Lamu area alongside Kenyan soldiers and police deployed to defend against regular deadly attacks by Islamic militants. There have been no confirmed sightings of elephants in Somalia in two decades, since soon after the start of a civil war that has continued in different forms ever since. Despite the time that has elapsed, Morgan appeared to have remember the old migration routes. "A mature bull like Morgan is not wandering aimlessly. He's likely following a route that he learnt earlier in his life, one that has been used by elephants for generations," said Ian Craig, conservation director at the Northern Rangelands Trust, a Kenya-based conservation group that establishes reserves across the country, including in the area where Morgan lives. In the end, after walking 220 kilometres (137 miles) Morgan spent just less than 24-hours actually in Somalia -- and only went three kilometres over the border -- before turning back, presumably after failing to find any willing females with whom to mate. But the fact of his journey is what excites the conservationists. "Out of all the tracking we've done in Africa, these movements –- and these circumstances –- are exceptional," said Douglas-Hamilton. "The wandering of this one bull across the entire expanse of Lamu district, from the Tana river to the Somali border, no-one has seen anything like this before."


Because forest elephants are one the slowest reproducing mammals in the world, it will take almost a century for them to recover from the intense poaching they have suffered since 2002. Credit: Andrea Turkalo/WCS Because forest elephants are one the slowest reproducing mammals in the world, it will take almost a century for them to recover from the intense poaching they have suffered since 2002. Not only does it take more than two decades for female forest elephants to begin reproducing, but they also give birth only once every five to six years. The findings are from a first-ever study of forest elephant demography published Aug. 31 in the Journal of Applied Ecology. There are two species of elephants in Africa. Savannah elephants make up the majority across the continent, with smaller numbers of the more diminutive forest elephants restricted to tropical forests. Forest elephants have experienced serious poaching, driving an estimated population decline of 65 percent between 2002 and 2013 according to a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Their reported low birth rates mean that it will take forest elephants at least 90 years to recover from these losses, according to researchers from the WCS, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Elephant Listening Project, Colorado State University, and Save the Elephants. The team used decades of intensive monitoring data that recorded births and deaths of the elephants using the Dzanga Bai in Central African Republic, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sangha Trinational area. (Dzanga Bai translates roughly as "village of elephants.") "This work provides another critical piece of understanding regarding the dire conservation status of forest elephants," said the study's lead author Andrea Turkalo, WCS Associate Conservation Scientist, who over several decades collected the detailed data on the Dzanga elephants despite tough logistical challenges and political instability. Using data Turkalo collected from 1990 to 2013 during nearly daily visits to a mineral rich forest clearing, or bai, that attracts elephants and other wildlife, the authors were able to uncover the age at which the forest elephants had their first calves, the length of time between calves, and other behaviors. The team found that forest elephants begin breeding later and have much longer calving intervals than other elephants, which means the population takes much longer to increase. "Female forest elephants in the Dzanga population typically breed for the first time after 23 years of age, a markedly late age of maturity relative to other mammals," Turkalo said. "In contrast, Savannah elephants typically begin breeding at age 12. In addition, breeding female forest elephants only produced a calf once every five or six years, relative to the three- to four-year interval found for Savannah elephants." The authors believe that the low birth rate is due to the challenges of living in a tropical forest, where new plant growth is mostly limited to the canopy. Said Peter Wrege, a Behavioral Ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Elephant Listening Project: "While we think of tropical forests as incredibly productive areas, most production occurs in the high canopy inaccessible to ground-dwelling species. In addition, vegetation in tropical systems are laden with compounds to defend their leaves from herbivores, including elephants. This means accessing resources is challenging for terrestrial fauna." George Wittemyer, chair of the Scientific Board of Save the Elephants and a professor in Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University, said the findings are essential to assessing the status of forest elephants and projecting population decline in the face of illegal killing. "Legislation regarding ivory trade must consider the collateral effects on forest elephants and the difficulties of protecting them," Wittemyer said. "Trade in ivory in one nation can influence the pressures on elephants in other nations." The paper's findings show that the forest elephant is particularly susceptible to poaching - vital information in the push to close domestic ivory markets, which will be debated at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which runs from Sept. 1-10 in Hawaii, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which meets in Johannesburg in late September. The authors also highlight the importance of the results for interpreting carcass data collected through the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program, which has shown high levels of poaching across central Africa. "Only by understanding the basic biology of forest elephants and other species, can we properly determine the level of threats they face from human activities," said Wittemyer. Forest elephants have critical ecological roles in these forests, and many tree species rely on the elephants to disperse their seeds. Continued decline in forest elephant numbers and range is likely to drive severe changes to these ecosystems, making their conservation status a significant global issue. Failing to protect forest elephants would also damage Central African forests, which are important for absorbing climate change gases. Explore further: At least 26 elephants massacred by C.African poachers


"We're seeing the price of ivory start to tank," said John Scanlon, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). "You're seeing the bottom fall out of the market," he told AFP on the sidelines of a meeting in Geneva this week focused on illegal wildlife trade. The international trade in ivory has been banned in most of the world since 1989 following a drop in the population of African elephants from millions in the mid-20th century to just 600,000 by the end of the 1980s. But a vast illegal market still sees some 30,0000 elephants slaughtered in Africa each year. Organised crime syndicates and rebel militia looking for ways to fund insurgencies in Africa have become increasingly involved in the trade, eager to reap the benefits as demand in Asia for ivory to use in decorations and traditional medicines drives a multi-billion-dollar market. But in a report published late last year, Kenya-based conservation group Save the Elephants said the price of ivory in China was cut in half over an 18-month period. The organisation said in December that the price of illegal raw ivory in China had fallen to $1,100 (1,000 euros) per kilo, down from a record high in mid-2014 of $2,100 (1,900 euros) per kilo. China has this year taken steps to reduce both the legal and illegal ivory trades—although a total ban has not been put in place—and awareness of the impact of the trade on Africa's elephants is growing among Chinese consumers. While the gangs behind most of the illegal trade can still make a profit, Scanlon said the slumping prices were sending a clear message. He said that even more than ivory-coveting end consumers, scrupulous investors speculating in illegal ivory prices were driving the demand, stressing that they were unlikely to keep investing as prices plunge and the risks soar. Countries across the world have increasingly been cracking down on the illegal trade, dishing out harsher sentences to poachers, middlemen and buyers alike and dramatically increasing efforts to track ivory. Trading in illegal ivory "is shifting from low risk, high profit to high risk, low profit," Scanlon said, voicing hope that lower prices could help bring the devastating trade to an end. The problem however remains far from solved. Today, only 450,000 to 500,000 elephants remain in Africa, with the hardest-hit populations in the centre and the west of the continent seeing annual killings that exceed the natural birthrates. "We are faced with terrifying levels of poaching and illegal trade," Niger's representative Mariama Ali Omar told the CITES conference. She was among a range of country representatives calling on countries to destroy their ivory stockpiles and urging those that permit the trade of ivory from domestic elephants to "stop it." "That would help us to bring down demand... (and) bring an end to having domestic trade serve to launder illegal ivory trade," she said. The Geneva meeting will provide a range of recommendations to be considered at the triennial World Wildlife Conference in opening in South Africa in September. Explore further: Treat illegal wildlife trade as serious crime: CITES


Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in December in Kenya's coastal Tana River Delta, but in mid-February began an unexpected march northwards to Somalia, reaching the border nearly three weeks later. His march has excited conservationists who say it shows the elephant remembered ancient routes after decades of absence due to war. "He obviously had something in his mind about where he's going," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, a conservation organisation that has put tracking collars on hundreds of African elephants. Morgan's journey suggests that the Kenya-Somalia border area is becoming less dangerous and that if security were to return to southern Somalia so might the exiled elephants. From Tana River, Morgan trudged 20 kilometres (12 miles) on the first night and then hid in thick forest the following day, before continuing his march under cover of darkness. He maintained this pattern for the next 18 days. "He's adopted this extreme form of survival strategy to traverse one of the most dangerous places for elephants in their African range," said Douglas-Hamilton. African elephants are threatened everywhere by criminal poaching gangs and armed groups, who kill them for their tusks, the ivory fetching around $1,100 (1,000 euros) per kilogramme (2.2 pounds) in China. At least 20,000 elephants were killed last year, according to figures released this month by the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international organisation. In some parts of Africa elephants are being killed quicker than they reproduce, but Kenya has seen recent successes with the number of elephants poached in 2015 falling to 93 from 164 the previous year. In the early 1970s it is estimated there were as many as 20,000 elephants in Kenya's coastal area, but that number has fallen to 300 at most today. Some credit a Kenyan security operation in the area with suppressing poaching. "We're seeing more elephants now," said Charles Omondi, a commander in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which is patrolling the Lamu area alongside Kenyan soldiers and police deployed to defend against regular deadly attacks by Islamic militants. There have been no confirmed sightings of elephants in Somalia in two decades, since soon after the start of a civil war that has continued in different forms ever since. Despite the time that has elapsed, Morgan appeared to have remember the old migration routes. "A mature bull like Morgan is not wandering aimlessly. He's likely following a route that he learnt earlier in his life, one that has been used by elephants for generations," said Ian Craig, conservation director at the Northern Rangelands Trust, a Kenya-based conservation group that establishes reserves across the country, including in the area where Morgan lives. In the end, after walking 220 kilometres (137 miles) Morgan spent just less than 24-hours actually in Somalia—and only went three kilometres over the border—before turning back, presumably after failing to find any willing females with whom to mate. But the fact of his journey is what excites the conservationists. "Out of all the tracking we've done in Africa, these movements –- and these circumstances –- are exceptional," said Douglas-Hamilton. "The wandering of this one bull across the entire expanse of Lamu district, from the Tana river to the Somali border, no-one has seen anything like this before."


Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said in Hong Kong on Wednesday that the semiautonomous Chinese city will take steps to implement a total ban on the sale of ivory because of concern about poaching that has sharply reduced elephant populations in many parts of Africa. Hong Kong will take legislative measures as soon as possible to ban the import and export of elephant hunting trophies and explore other legislation as part of its effort to phase out the local ivory trade, Leung said. Moves to ban the trade by the government in Hong Kong, a major conduit for ivory bound for mainland China, would dovetail with similar pledges by Beijing. Hong Kong's Basic Law, a kind of mini-constitution, grants the city a high degree of control over its own affairs. In a statement, Peter Knights, executive director of San Francisco-based WildAid, congratulated Hong Kong for what he called "this historic step." The World Wide Fund for Nature also welcomed the pledge, urging the government to quickly develop a clear timetable for implementation. China is the world's largest market for illegal ivory, which has been thriving under the cover of legal ivory sales. In September, U.S. President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China agreed to implement nearly complete bans on the ivory trade. In December, Save the Elephants, a conservation group, announced new research showing the price of illegal raw ivory in China had dropped by almost half in the previous 18 months. It attributed the drop to Chinese moves to end the trade, growing awareness in China about the link between buying ivory and the slaughter of elephants, and the Chinese economic slowdown. The research authors, Esmond Bradley Martin and Lucy Vigne, also produced a report last year that said more than 90 percent of ivory objects in Hong Kong, including rings, pendants and small figurines, are bought by mainland Chinese.

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