Countries pledge to save elephants
Key countries where illegal ivory trade thrives have pledged urgent measures to try to halt the poaching and secure elephant populations across Africa.
The agreement was announced at the African Elephant Summit convened by the government of Botswana and the The International Union for Conservation of Nature, held in Gaborone.
One of the 14 measures agreed involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a "serious crime."
The IUCN said this would unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime.
The measures were agreed by key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia and ivory transit states Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand.
"Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act," Botswana President Ian Khama said.
"Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species."
Other measures agreed include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilising financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.
The IUCN said 2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and 2012 showed no signs of abating.
Initial figures show even higher levels of illicit trade may be reached in 2013, it said. Eighteen large scale seizures of more than 40 tons of ivory had been recorded so far this year, which represented the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the last 25 years.
A report presented at the summit by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species suggested that as many as 20% of Africa's elephants could be killed in the next 10 years if illegal poaching continues at the current rate.