African Elephant Conservation Act

By Phillips, Mark | Endangered Species Bulletin, March 1998 | Go to article overview

African Elephant Conservation Act


Phillips, Mark, Endangered Species Bulletin


The African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world's largest land mammal, had a continent-wide population of approximately 1.3 million individuals in the late 1970's. But an onslaught of poaching to satisfy the ivory trade reduced the population of African elephants by about 50 percent during the 1980's. Current population estimates are in the range of 600,000.

In response to this alarming trend, Congress passed the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) in 1988. It provides two important mechanisms: (1) a review of African elephant conservation programs in each range country and a moratorium on the importation of ivory from any country that fails to maintain an adequate elephant conservation program, and (2) a grant program to support research, conservation, management, and protection of African elephants.

In 1989, in order to implement the first provision of the AECA, the United States established a moratorium on all ivory imports. While the U.S. determined that several countries were able to maintain adequate conservation programs internally, it found there was no effective mechanism to control the international trade in ivory products. The import moratorium remains in effect for commercial shipments of ivory that do not qualify as antiques (at least 100 years old) and for many forms of ivory intended for personal use.

The second pillar of the AECA is the Grant Program, the implementation of which has been entrusted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Management Authority (OMA). This office has received over 300 proposals for grants on various aspects of African elephant research, conservation, management, enforcement, and protection since the program's inception. The first Congressional appropriation to the AECA Grant Program of $350,000 was in 1990. Congressional appropriations since that time have steadily increased to the current annual appropriation of about $1 million.

Given this relatively modest level of funding, the AECA Grant program is designed to provide quick, short-term support for holding actions and other conservation measures in concert with existing or proposed long-range activities. Any African government agency responsible for elephant conservation and protection, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and any organization or individual with experience in African elephant conservation may submit a project proposal for funding consideration. Because of the limited funding, proposed projects must provide for on the-ground activities that enhance elephant populations in one or more countries. Any conservation activity, including enforcement, protection, management, and management-oriented research, may be considered for funding.

To date, 60 projects in 19 African countries have been funded with a combined total of nearly $6 million dollars. Grant agreements have been written with 6 African governments (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia) and 21 non-governmental organizations, including national and international conservation organizations, animal protection organizations, and hunting organizations. Since the total cost of most projects far exceeds the available U.S. funding, project proposals that include other cooperators are encouraged. As a result, nearly $15 million dollars have been generated through matching funds and in-kind support, such as the services of salaried employees or the use of facilities or equipment.

It is in the area of law enforcement and anti-poaching support where the AECA Grant Program has had perhaps its greatest impact. Throughout the history of the program, OMA has assigned a high priority to project proposals that have been submitted by African elephant range state government agencies, and most of these proposals address the need for enhancing anti-poaching efforts. Funds have been provided to augment antipoaching support in Cameroon, Congo, Eritrea, Gabon, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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