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Environmental crimes including the act of elephant poaching and the illegal cutting of timber have been rapidly escalating and have put international governments on notice. Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Group are acting quickly to halt these horrific crimes that cost tens of billions of dollars a year.  Around 500 law enforcement officials and environmental experts are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya this week to discuss the problem.

Wildlife experts say that ivory is on the rise in middle-class China and thousands of elephants are killed in Africa each year for this deadly trade. According to UNEP, 17,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2011.

In the 1970s, the demand for ivory soared and thus this illegal trade was responsible for decline of the African elephant population from around 3-5 million to what it is now.  In 1989, CITES banned the trade of the illegal trade and was able to eliminate some of the major ivory markets. This ban allowed for a decline in elephant killings and allowed the elephant population to recover.  Still, this illegal trade is widely spread in Asia as it is fueled by the poaching pressure for bush meat and ivory.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, this week in China alone customs officials were able to bust two smuggling groups accused of smuggling $100 million worth of ivory from Africa to Asia.

Not only are officials worried about this ongoing trade, but people around the world are worried and outraged that these criminal networks are taking away animals from wildlife.  While many people are outraged, others are not aware of the toll this trade takes on the elephant population.  Achim Steiner, the UNEP executive director, said that the UNEP is talking with China to increase public awareness about how the demand for ivory results in the death of thousands of elephants.

One country in Africa, Kenya, has considered a Conservation bill that increases penalties for poachers and traffickers in Kenya. Currently, Kenya has had 90 elephants and 35 rhinos killed this year by poachers.

The meeting this week in Nairobi will hopefully result in stricter and increased law enforcement and help spread more awareness about the poaching trade.

To find out additional information about the effects of poaching on elephants click here.

Image Source: Vince Smith/Flickr