African Elephant Conservation Act

African Elephant Conservation Act

Mark Phillips

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world’s largest land mammal, had a continent-wide population of approximately 1.3 million individuals in the late 1970’s. But an onslaught of poaching to satisfy the ivory trade reduced the population of African elephants by about 50 percent during the 1980’s. Current population estimates are in the range of 600,000.

In response to this alarming trend, Congress passed the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) in 1988. It provides two important mechanisms: (1) a review of African elephant conservation programs in each range country and a moratorium on the importation of ivory from any country that fails to maintain an adequate elephant conservation program, and (2) a grant program to support research, conservation, management, and protection of African elephants.

In 1989, in order to implement the first provision of the AECA, the United States established a moratorium on all ivory imports. While the U.S. determined that several countries were able to maintain adequate conservation programs internally, it found there was no effective mechanism to control the international trade in ivory products. The import moratorium remains in effect for commercial shipments of ivory that do not qualify as antiques (at least 100 years old) and for many forms of ivory intended for personal use.

The second pillar of the AECA is the Grant Program, the implementation of which has been entrusted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Management Authority (OMA). This office has received over 300 proposals for grants on various aspects of African elephant research, conservation, management, enforcement, and protection since the program’s inception. The first Congressional appropriation to the AECA Grant Program of $350,000 was in 1990. Congressional appropriations since that time have steadily increased to the current annual appropriation of about $1 million.

Given this relatively modest level of funding, the AECA Grant program is designed to provide quick, short-term support for holding actions and other conservation measures in concert with existing or proposed long-range activities. Any African government agency responsible for elephant conservation and protection, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and any organization or individual with experience in African elephant conservation may submit a project proposal for funding consideration. Because of the limited funding, proposed projects must provide for on the-ground activities that enhance elephant populations in one or more countries. Any conservation activity, including enforcement, protection, management, and management-oriented research, may be considered for funding.

To date, 60 projects in 19 African countries have been funded with a combined total of nearly $6 million dollars. Grant agreements have been written with 6 African governments (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia) and 21 non-governmental organizations, including national and international conservation organizations, animal protection organizations, and hunting organizations. Since the total cost of most projects far exceeds the available U.S. funding, project proposals that include other cooperators are encouraged. As a result, nearly $15 million dollars have been generated through matching funds and in-kind support, such as the services of salaried employees or the use of facilities or equipment.

It is in the area of law enforcement and anti-poaching support where the AECA Grant Program has had perhaps its greatest impact. Throughout the history of the program, OMA has assigned a high priority to project proposals that have been submitted by African elephant range state government agencies, and most of these proposals address the need for enhancing anti-poaching efforts. Funds have been provided to augment antipoaching support in Cameroon, Congo, Eritrea, Gabon, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Equipment purchased with these funds has ranged from vehicles to field gear such a tents, backpacks and canteens. One of the most innovative projects that has come to fruition is a meritorious service awards program for game scouts and rangers in Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This program has provided a much needed morale boost for these courageous individuals as they routinely confront heavily-armed groups of commercial poachers. This on the ground anti-poaching support has been complimented by an international agreement, known as the Lusaka Agreement, to combat poaching among several eastern and southern African nations, in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Program. The AECA Grant Program has contributed partial support towards the development of this agreement.

As law enforcement efforts improve, the elephant population across much of the African continent has stabilized or increased, thus bringing with it inevitable conflicts as human encroachment continues to restrict the range of these large herbivores. The AECA Grant Program has on many occasions provided much needed funds to projects that aim to improve management of the remaining African elephant habitat. Obligated funds for projects of this nature have been used for everything from the actual translocation of entire elephant family units in Zimbabwe, to the investigation of various deterrents used to discourage crop-raiding elephants in Cameroon and Zimbabwe. Often, African agencies also are in need of basic training in wildlife management. The AECA Grant Program funds were utilized to train wildlife officers in Ghana about elephant biology and ecology.

For effective elephant management to be achieved, reliable elephant population data must be available. To this end, the AECA Grant Program has provided funds to conduct elephant population surveys in Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Malawi, Namibia, and Tanzania. In the same vein, the AECA Grant Program has provided funds to assist in the establishment of a continent-wide database on elephant populations and the first comprehensive library of elephant resource material.

Wildlife management often involves the need for immediate remedial measures to ensure species survival. In this regard, AECA Grant Program funds have been used to provide emergency drought relief in Malawi and to combat an outbreak of anthrax in Namibia. In most instances, African elephant conservation efforts and management can only be effectively implemented with direct involvement of the local people. Conservation programs that generate direct benefits to the local people are often regarded as the only truly effective means to implement lasting conservation measures. AECA Grant Program funds have been utilized to support just such a program in Zimbabwe.

Without a doubt, the AECA Grant Program has played a key role in the conservation of the African elephant. The program’s far-reaching effects include the protection of the northernmost (Eritrea) and western-most (Senegal) populations of African elephants. The program has enjoyed the participation and support of the conservation, animal protection, and hunting communities. We hope that the AECA will serve as an example to stimulate other countries to enact similar conservation measures as the global community works together to ensure the survival of the African elephant.

Mark Phillips is a Biologist with the FWS Office of Management Authority.

Editor’s note: As a result of program reorganization, the administration of the AECA grant program has been transferred to the FWS Office of International Affairs. Any inquiries regarding the current status or future direction of the program should be directed to that office.

COPYRIGHT 1998 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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