Nairobi -- World Elephant Day, now in its third year, should be an opportunity to celebrate the majesty of the planet's largest land animal. Instead, it is a reminder that if poaching continues at current rates, we face a future in which one of the environment's keystone species may be driven to extinction by rising demand for illegal ivory in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.
UNEP and partner research reveals that large-scale seizures of ivory (consignments of over 800 kg) destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.
To meet this insatiable demand for ivory, approximately 20,000 to 25,000 elephants are killed per year, out of a population of between 420,000 and 650,000.
Poached African ivory may represent an end-user street value in Asia of US$165 to US$188 million of raw ivory.
The Asian elephant is now endangered, with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide, and it is estimated that one in every three elephants in Asia lives in captivity.
Extinction is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If we pool our resources and renew our commitment to saving this most magnificent of species, we can end the illegal trade in ivory and reverse the heartbreaking slaughter, capture and imprisonment of elephants.
The World Elephant Day website presents a list of practical steps that individuals can take to help elephants.
These include studying elephants in their 'keystone' role in the environment and their relationships with plants and other animals; learning about and supporting organisations that are working to protect habitat for wild elephants; not buying ivory or other illegal wildlife goods; and, supporting organizations that are working to stop the illegal poaching and trade of elephant ivory and other wildlife products.
Through the publication of such important reports as The Environmental Crime Crisis, A Rapid Response Assessment, released during the first United Nations Environment Assembly in June 2014, UNEP is raising awareness at the political and societal level of the grave impact of poaching on elephant populations and the environment.
Many organisations around the world are also collaborating to address the growing threat to elephants.
One example of international enforcement collaboration is the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). The ICCWC, along with increased collaboration with countries and agencies such as UNEP, has created a more effective structure to provide support to countries in the fields of policing, customs, prosecution and the judiciary.
Support UNEP as the global authority on the environment to address the serious and rising environmental impacts of environmental crime and help ensure the survival of our planet's precious and rapidly dwindling elephants.