Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants

In Focus, April 2002

Assessing the impact of international trade decisions is a complex business. In the case of elephants, an unprecedented system is being put in place to track developments on the ground and to help determine trends and causes in changing populations.

The Long-term System for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) project is targeting select sites in 29 countries in Africa and 11 in Asia. The project will ultimately enable sound decision-making at national, regional and international levels to benefit elephants and a host of other species that rely on the same habitat for survival.

On a long-term basis, the project will measure levels and trends in the illegal killing of elephants, assess the causes of any trends and integrate this information with a complementary system to monitor trade in elephants products.

The parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) resolved to create the system in 1997 as part of an agreement to allow limited, one-time trade in elephant products from three southern African countries.

The project includes population surveys at each site every two years and routine collection of other information, such as the number of elephants killed illegally and law enforcement measures and capacity. A range of external factors, such as civil strife and community involvement in conservation, will be assessed annually.

Building institutional capacity to effectively manage elephant populations within the countries where elephants occur is an integral part of the project. In West Africa, for example, patrols and the resources to carry them out vary greatly from site to site. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is helping finance the project in this region, where 90 percent of elephant habitat was lost during the last century and remaining elephant populations are small and isolated.

MIKE implementation in West Africa officially launched earlier this year with the first training workshop. Representatives from 10 countries attended the workshop, which was held in Niger in February. Visits to each site by project staff began in March.

A growing alliance is supporting the project, including the European Commission, the Belgium, Japan and U.S. governments, CEPF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, IUCN-The World Conservation Union and World Wide Fund for Nature.