Over 20,000 African elephants poached in 2013: UN report

GENEVA, June 13 (Xinhua) -- More than 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013, according to a report released Friday by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The report, titled "Elephants in the dust -- The African elephant crisis," said the sharp upward trend in illegal elephant killing observed since the mid-2000s, which had peaked in 2011, is leveling off.

However, it noted poaching levels remain alarmingly high and continue to far exceed the natural elephant population growth rates, resulting in a further decline in elephant population across Africa.

Meanwhile, the report showed a clear increase in the number of large seizures of ivory made in 2013. For the first time, the number of such seizures made in Africa exceeded those made in Asia.

It warned large-scale ivory seizures are indicative of transnational organized crime being involved in the illicit ivory trade. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda accounted for 80 percent of large seizures of ivory.

"This is a serious crime. It needs to be treated as a serious crime," John Scanlon, Cites secretary-general, told a press conference.

"We need to deploy the same sorts of techniques that are used to combat other serious crimes such as illicit trade in narcotics or human trafficking or illicit trade in arms," he added.

He noted political momentum was needed. "We have it but the focus must be in the field and the focus must be on the front line, because this fight will be won or lost on the front line," he stated.

The report also named poverty, weak governance and demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations are three key factors linked to higher poaching levels, which will lead to continuing declines in the African elephant population.