Nairobi -- International football star Yaya Touré today pledged to combat the illegal ivory trade that sees thousands of African elephants slaughtered each year as he was unveiled as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Mr. Touré joins the roster of other Goodwill Ambassadors-Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, US actor Don Cheadle, Chinese actress Li Bingbing, French photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand and Indian economist Pavan Sukhdev-to help generate public awareness and understanding of environmental causes.
Touré, African Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and an inspirational figure for Manchester City and his national side Côte d'Ivoire, travelled to the headquarters of UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya-a country that is facing a massive spike in poaching-to accept his nomination.
'Côte d'Ivoire's national team is named 'The Elephants' after these magnificent creatures that are so full of power and grace, yet in my country alone there may be as few as 800 individuals left,' Touré said. 'Poaching threatens the very existence of the African elephant and if we do not act now we could be looking at a future in which this iconic species is wiped out.'
'I became a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador to spread the message that this poaching-and other forms of wildlife crime-is not only a betrayal of our responsibility to safeguard threatened species, but a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries,' he added.
Increased poaching and loss of habitats are decimating African elephant populations-especially in Central African countries-according to a report entitled 'Elephants in the Dust - The African Elephant Crisis', released in Bangkok in March at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The UN estimates that over 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in monitored sites in 2011 alone. Overall figures may be much higher. The extent of the killings now far exceeds the natural population growth rates, putting elephants at risk of extinction, especially in Central and Western Africa. But even previously secure populations, such as those in East Africa, are now under threat.
'We are honoured that Mr. Touré has agreed to be a Goodwill Ambassador,' said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. 'His personal commitment to an environmentally sustainable lifestyle and his global status as an internationally renowned sportsman makes him a particularly powerful African voice to speak and inspire action on the environmental challenges and the solutions to these challenges.'
Mr. Touré has already demonstrated his commitment to tackling this issue. In September this year, Mr. Touré and other players at a World Cup qualifier between Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco-viewed by tens of millions across the globe-held up slogans to raise awareness of the killings of elephants and other wildlife.
The Elephants in the Dust report-produced by UNEP, CITES, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC)- says that the illegal ivory trade has tripled since 1998.
Criminal networks are responsible for the illegal trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia. Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.
The international community is looking at measures to address the crisis, including collaborative action to combat the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, which would include:
- Improved law-enforcement across the entire illegal ivory supply chain;
- Strengthened national legislative frameworks;
- Training of enforcement officers in the use of tracking, intelligence networks and innovative techniques, such as forensic analysis;
- Better international collaboration across range states, transit countries and consumer markets;
- Action to fight collusive corruption, identifying syndicates and reducing demand.
UNEP is strengthening and focusing its work to further assess global and regional environmental threats caused by the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, to provide policy advice on such threats, and to further catalyze and promote international cooperation and action to address the threats caused by the illegal trade in wildlife and timber. Such efforts build on four decades of UNEP's work in support of the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and forest resources.
A range of regional initiatives have also been developed and adopted. In Africa, the Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora was adopted in 1994 to support member states and collaborating partners in reducing and ultimately eliminating illegal trade in wild fauna and flora.
In other regions, Regional Wildlife Enforcement Groups/Networks have been developed (in North America, Europe, Southeast and South Asia, and the Middle East), which aim to facilitate cross-border cooperation among agencies involved in preventing and suppressing wildlife crime.
Regional Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) processes have also been initiated in South-East Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North Asia. The FLEG processes provide soft legislation which aims to improve governance in the forest sector and to strengthen cooperation to address illegal logging and timber trade.
To download the Elephants in the Dust report, please visit the following link: http://www.grida.no/publications/rr/elephants/
About UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors
UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors help generate public awareness and understanding of environmental causes, as well as inspire broad, positive, committed action in support of UNEP's mandate and priorities. Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen, US actor Don Cheadle, French photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand, Chinese actress Li Binging and Indian economist Pavan Sukhdev currently serve as international ambassadors. National ambassadors include musicians Suzanna Owiyo and Eric Wainaina, both from Kenya, and Ragheb Subhi Alama from Lebanon. Visit the website for more details: http://www.unep.org/gwa/