NEW YORK (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council is cracking down on ivory hunters and traffickers who finance armed groups in Africa in a new initiative welcomed by conservationists.
Two resolutions adopted by the council last week - one relating to the Central African Republic, the other to the Democratic Republic of Congo - stated that the trade in illegal wildlife was fuelling conflicts in the region and bankrolling organised crime.
Under the resolutions, the council can slap sanctions, such as freezing assets or restricting travel, on any individual found to be involved in wildlife trafficking. The resolutions were primarily designed to target a number of armed rebel groups operating in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN also suspects the Lord's Resistance Army run by the ruthless warlord Joseph Kony uses the illegal ivory trade as a source of generating finances. Other groups believed to benefit from the illegal wildlife trade include Somalia's Al-Shabaab Islamist militant group and Sudan's fearsome Janjaweed militia.
"This is the first time that a United Nations Security Council sanctions regime has targeted wildlife poachers and traffickers," said Ms Wendy Elliott, species programme manager at the World Wildlife Fund. "It should act as a deterrent."
"There is no silver bullet to end this traffic, this is not going to solve the problem instantly but a year ago wildlife trafficking was not seen as a criminal issue, just an environmental one," Ms Elliott added.
Since 2009, the trade in poaching has escalated to near industrial levels, with more than 500kg of ivory seized worldwide, threatening elephants and rhinos with extinction despite the existence of Cites (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
An estimated 60 elephants are slain each day in Africa, where the total numbers of the animals has plummeted by half since 1980 to just 500,000.