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West African countries to sign treaty on elephants

A dozen West African countries to sign UN treaty on boosting numbers of elephants

With the estimated number of elephants in West Africa dropping to between 5,000 and 13,000, a dozen countries are scheduled to sign a treaty on the animals' protection at a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

The agreement and its action plan presented at the 20 to 25 November meeting sets targets and timetables for improving elephant habitats, boosting the numbers in fragile populations, setting up wildlife "corridors" and many other measures, including cross-border cooperation.

"In 2002, nations agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said. "West Africa's elephants could, under this agreement, become living proof that the global community can indeed achieve these ambitious aims for animals and plants planet-wide."

Elephant numbers were initially devastated by such factors as the 19th century ivory trade by the European colonial powers and land clearing for road and railway construction, UNEP said. In the 20th century, pressures from ivory poaching have been joined by those from logging, along with the destruction of elephant habitats by agriculture, urban settlements and civil wars.

Many of the environmental workers in already protected areas lack the means to patrol and enforce conservation laws, Nairobi-based UNEP said. The strategy calls for staff members to be given better equipment and training to raise morale and heighten the impact of their work.

The strategy will also help to coordinate scientific activities in the elephants' migratory range. It calls for more effective collection of numbers, trends in population sizes and other data, with targets to survey all populations of more than 100 by 2010 and those of more than 50 by 2015. Many countries now have fewer than 100 elephants.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union's Director-General, Achim Steiner, said: "This is not just a conservation agreement for elephants. By improving their habitats and conserving the region's ecosystems, this agreement can boost the fortunes and prospects for local people who rely on nature for their livelihoods."

"It should also help conserve a myriad of other threatened and endangered species, and the forest and savannah homes in which they live," he added.

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