One of the founders of Microsoft, Paul Allen, has expressed his grave concern for the fate of Africa’s elephants by adding his financial weight to their protection. He announced today [subs: Dec 2] that his family trust will fund an Africa-wide survey to establish how many elephants remain .
This follows on an agreement by the Clinton Foundation to provide millions of dollars for anti-poaching programmes in Africa and President Obama’s decision to have the US stockpile of illegal ivory crushed so it cannot be reused.
These moves reflect world-wide concern over the future of elephants, which are presently being poached at the rate of about one every 15 minutes. Estimates of elephant numbers in Africa range from 410 000 to 650 000 and many populations have not been surveyed for many years. ‘Counts’ are often based on conjecture and assumptions.
The Pan-African Survey will be coordinated by Elephants Without Borders (EWB), which is based in Botswana. It will require three fixed-wing planes and two helicopters doing tight transects in 13 elephant-range countries during the 2014 dry season. The aim will be to find where elephants are on the continent, where they’re increasing or declining and what threats they face. The cost will be around $8-million.
‘I’m honoured that his agreement to support the survey was instantaneous,’ said EWB director Mike Chase. ‘An eco-philanthropist like Paul knows what’s at stake can identify with our vision because he visits Africa twice a year.
‘He’s not a tourist. He talks to conservationists, biologists, villagers, staff and guides and he own lodges like Abu in the Okavango Delta. He and his sister, Jody, quietly fund so much conservation in Africa that isn’t generally known about. Their personal investment in the continent is amazing.’
‘This is the bleakest time for elephants,’ said Allen in support of the survey. ‘The statistics on the plight of Africa’s elephants is daunting. I’m devoted to supporting new endeavours which provide meaningful science to help reverse this decline and to reduce the variability in elephant population statistics.’
The Pan-African Survey was announced at an emergency summit on the illegal ivory trade which began in Gaborone today. It’s attended by heads of state, senior officials and NGOs who will attempt to secure commitments for African states to take urgent measures along the ivory chain as well as from consumer states in Asia.
Their aim is to put together a crisis plan and a set of targets to curb poaching and to tackle corrupt networks and trafficking operations. It will also assess and seek to rectify the economic damage to communities from destabilization caused by the arms-for-ivory trade.
Allen, who has pledged to leave most of his estate to philanthropy, gives back to the community through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation as well as with direct grants. Recipients include Washington State University for the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and an institute to accelerate understanding of the human brain in health and disease.
Elephants once roamed across 46 African countries, but are now limited to 35. In 20 of those, populations number less than 1 000. Their range area has been reduced to 15 per cent of Africa’s total surface. This decline has been caused by habitat encroachment, increased human population densities, agricultural development, deforestation and infrastructure development as well as poaching.
Elephants may soon be extinct in Central and West Africa. Demand for ivory in Asia and its subsequent leap in price has resulted in the highest elephant mortality rate in their 1.5-million-year history.
For more information: www.conservationaction.co.za.
By Don Pinnock
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