Amid the urgent and complex global challenge that illegal wildlife trade poses, Nigeria and other African leaders have called on international donors to commit $1 billion over the next 12 years to save continent's remaining elephants.
They made the plea during the Elephant Protection Initiative's (EPI) Consultative Group at the Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Conference, and urged "donors to put elephants beyond the risk of extinction" by helping provide the required investment.
Launched in 2014 by the leaders of five countries - Gabon, Chad, Tanzania, Botswana and Ethiopia - the EPI coalition now numbers 19 African member states. The EPI has common policies to save Africa's elephants and build a sustainable future for our people. These are based on the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP), which was agreed by all African elephant range states in 2010.
Africa's elephant population has been devastated by ivory poachers over the past decade. On average, some 55 elephants are killed per day. If this rate continues, elephants could be wiped out within a generation.
The EPI held crucial meetings on the elephant crisis at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London, which was attended by Nigeria's Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril. The EPI's first ever Consultative Group was hosted by the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba. Seven African countries - Gabon, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Angola and Chad - presented their elephant conservation plans. These plans would cost some 268 million USD to implement over the next three years.
Their National Elephant Action Plans are fully costed national plans drawn up by African governments to protect their elephant populations. The EPI champions and advocates for these plans across Africa as a sustainable and effective way to save the continent's dwindling elephant population, which continues to come under fierce attack from poaching and illegal trafficking.
The EPI's John Stephenson said: "If we invest one billion dollars by 2030 we can put elephants beyond the risk of extinction, protect habitats, and the communities who live alongside wildlife. When this money is spread across elephant range states, the amount we spend in each country will be modest, but the returns will be large."
President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, said: "The EPI states have invested their own blood and treasure to protect elephants from poachers. African communities are losing their crops and are being killed by these magnificent but dangerous beasts. Hungry villagers bear the brunt of the elephant's appetite, whilst countries who have eliminated the indigenous animal's threats to their people demand conservation action.
President Bongo said: "This is not a battle African countries can or should fight alone. Wildlife crime is an international criminal business on par with the trafficking of drugs, arms and children and by nature, the solution has to be international. But going beyond the fight against international crime, the elephant is an international icon; the largest land mammal.
Our planet would be a lesser place if the rumble and the trumpet of the elephant was no more."Former President of Botswana, and a founding member of the EPI, Dr Ian Khama said: "Nature is the most important asset for the planet, and elephants are part of that asset. And, as we all know, assets need investment."
We maintain our infrastructure, we repair our roads, buildings, seaports and airports, but are not investing in our natural capital in the same manner.
"If we are indeed agreed on the need to appreciate the value of nature, and that acting to conserve the African elephant is a collective responsibility, then we urgently need to join hands and generate sufficient funding for the implementation of National Elephant Action Plans (NEAPs) in EPI member states.
"These action plans address various actions in support of elephant conservation and also, very importantly, the livelihoods of people and include measures to reduce human-elephant conflict and elephant poaching.
"In implementing the NEAPs and in observing EPI member state policies, we need to increase our vigilance in stemming the tide of elephant poaching incidents and the destruction of natural capital. If we value nature and the contribution of elephants to natural capital, we should not allow poaching and illegal wildlife trade to reduce that very value."
Duke of Cambridge, Prince William said:"I am delighted to be here at your first meeting. Ever since the EPI was created four years ago, I have continued to believe it offers the best African owned approach to protecting African elephants."Highlighting the work of the EPI and steps made since its inception, The Duke of Cambridge said: "Domestic ivory markets are closing, the international ivory trade has plummeted and government stockpiles are being put beyond commercial use."
"Action plans embrace the United Nation's sustainable development goals and set out a path to a sustainable future for elephants... most importantly they are your plans, they are African owned plans. They are underpinned by a common principle that ivory will not be sold commercially. They give each country ownership and control over how to manage elephant populations in your own way."The Duke of Cambridge added: "EPI represents hope - hope that our children and future generations will be able to witness elephant populations in the wild."