Nairobi — THE Nairobi-headquartered United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is raising awareness on the grave impact of poaching on elephant populations and the environment.
The awareness exercise coincides with World Elephant Day, marked annually on August 12 to celebrate the iconic majesty of elephants.
With the World Elephant Day now in its third year, UNEP says that it should be an opportunity to celebrate the majesty of the planet's largest land animal as well as a reminder that if poaching continued at current rates, the earth faces a future in which one of the environment's keystone species might be driven to extinction by rising demand for illegal ivory in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.
"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," UNEP stated.
To meet this insatiable demand for ivory, UNEP said in a statement that approximately 20 000 to 25 000 elephants are killed per year, out of a population of between 420 000 and 650 000.
UNEP statement states that 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.
"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," rallied the UNEP in the statement.
UNEP has thus called on the public to protect elephants through different initiatives fronted by the World Elephant Day.
These include studying elephants in their keystone role in the environment and their relationships with plants and other animals, learning about and supporting organizations that are working to protect habitat for wild elephants, shunning 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.