African Leaders: No One Country Can Stop Elephant Poaching : Parallels African leaders are looking for new ways to break up wildlife trafficking. They say they need to coordinate among themselves and get items like helicopters and night-vision goggles from the West.

African Leaders: No One Country Can Stop Elephant Poaching

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Now African leaders are gathering in Washington this week, hoping to project a different image of their continent. They want to promote African nations as more than places to grab natural resources and go. Most countries are exploited for everything from oil to copper to ivory. And it's the elephant tusks we talk about next. Rates of poaching are higher than at any time in the last two decades. But in Washington, four African presidents have told Congress they're fighting back. NPR's Gregory Warner reports.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: For some, it might've been a bit weird to see the president of Togo on this panel for a success in fighting wildlife trafficking. Even the President Faure Gnassingbe acted surprised. And that's because Togo, which is one of those long and thin countries on the curvy part of West Africa, doesn't have elephants - or hardly any. And yet the president says illicit ivory, confiscated all the way over in Malaysia and Hong Kong, was traced to his country.


PRESIDENT FAURE GNASSINGBE: I say we have to investigate because it's a matter of embarrassment, and we don't want to be pictured as a country which kills elephants that it doesn't have. And...


GNASSINGBE: ...A few months later...

WARNER: A few months later, after Togo cracked down, arrested and interrogated some of the traffickers, it discovered the source.


GNASSINGBE: Many of those tusks that were seized in Togo came from...

WARNER: And at this point, the president of Togo turns apologetically to the panelist on his left, the panelist who happens to be the president of Gabon, the country further south on the Gulf of Guinea.


GNASSINGBE: ...My friend's country. I was very surprised because I think in June we were together. We spent the day together, but we didn't even mention that issue.

WARNER: So those tusks shipped out of Togo came from elephants in the rain forests of Gabon - forest elephants, which are a dwindling species particularly prized by poachers for their dense and darkly pinkish tusks. The president of Gabon was on this panel for his efforts to save those forest elephants. U.S. Marines even came in to train its park rangers. But the president of Togo was saying that until U.S. diplomats brought it up, Gabon had never actually raised the poaching issue at regional talks. One of the biggest criticisms of Africa's failure to stop poaching is that there's no continental strategy, no dialogue between countries. And so this panel on wildlife trafficking was timed with the Africa Leaders Summit that has brought more than three dozen presidents to Washington. A third panelist, President Kikwete of Tanzania, complained that a shipment of Ivory might be trafficed through five countries, three of them in Africa.


PRESIDENT JAKAYA KIKWETE: The elephants are killed in Tanzania, move northwards.

WARNER: To Kenya.


KIKWETE: And then moved eastwards.

WARNER: To Uganda, before being shipped off to Sri Lanka to sell to the largest market, which is China. Now in the second half of the panel discussion, the four presidents were fairly bluntly asked what they'd need from the United States to continue their efforts. And the answers revealed just how well armed the poachers have become. Namibia asked for light attack helicopters, Tanzania for night-vision goggles, Togo for infrared scanners to use at its port. But President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, the country with all the rain forest, began talking about the thousands of game rangers killed in the front lines of this ever escalating poaching war. And then he asked the U.S. not just for military equipment, but for diplomatic pressure on one country that was not present at this panel - China.


PRESIDENT ALI BONGO ONDIMBA: Let's kill the market, and we'll save the animals. We'll save also human beings.

WARNER: Gregory Warner, NPR News, Washington.

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