Category Archives: poaching

Africa: New Report Commissioned By Born Free Usa Confirms Organized Crime, Government Corruption, and Militia Links to Elephant Poaching and the Ivory Trade

Born Free
21 April 2014

Washington, DC — ”Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” reveals similarity between the illicit networks that enable terrorism, weapons, human trafficking, and ivory commercialization.

Today, Born Free USA and C4ADS released “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa,” one of the most shocking, rigorous and in-depth analyses of elephant poaching  and the ivory trade to date. The report examines links to violent militias, organized crime, government corruption, and ivory trade to Asia. It further exposes the widespread transnational illicit participants deeply interwoven into the system that moves ivory. The full report is available at www.bornfreeusa.org/ivoryscurse.

According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, a global leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, “The elephant poaching crisis has reached historic levels and, shockingly, some elephant populations face extinction in my lifetime. Born Free USA sought to understand in a more robust way how destabilizing and corrupt individuals, as well as organized crime networks across Africa, place human security at risk and traffic in elephant ivory from slaughtered animals. Clearly, Ivory’s Curse shows that defense, military, national security, and foreign policy leaders must play a role in stopping the elephant massacre across the continent.”

Roberts explains, “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent. Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.”

Varun Vira, Senior Analyst at C4ADS and co-author of the report commissioned by Born Free USA, said, “Ivory is a conflict, crime, and corruption issue with severe human impact. It has been a conflict resource for decades, just like blood diamonds or coltan in Central Africa, only without the same level of global attention.”

One elephant yields about 20 pounds of ivory worth approximately $30,000. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 may have been killed in 2013. At this rate, the ivory trade could be worth one billion dollars annually, and will likely increase with the escalating retail price of ivory.

Ivory’s Curse provides detailed regional case studies on the ivory trade, including:

• From Sudan, government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants hundreds of miles outside North Sudan’s borders.
• In the DRC, state security forces patronize the very rebels they are supposed to fight, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for ivory.
• Zimbabwean political elites, including those under international sanction, are seizing wildlife spaces that either are, or likely will soon be, used as covers for poaching operations.
• In East Africa, al-Shabaab and Somali criminal networks are profiting off Kenyan elephants killed by poachers using weapons leaked from local security forces.
• Mozambican organized crime has militarized and consolidated to the extent it is willing to battle the South African army and well-trained ranger forces for rhino horn.
• In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, ill-regulated forest exploitation is bringing East Asian migrant laborers, and East Asian organized crime, into contact with Central Africa’s last elephants.
• In Tanzania, political elites have aided the industrial-scale depletion of East Africa’s largest elephant population.

Vira explains, “Subsistence elephant poaching barely exists anymore. Impoverished locals may pull the triggers but they source to organized crime, which controls the scale of the poaching and nearly all profits. Saving both elephants and local communities will require moving from the bush into the world of global illicit networks in order to target transnational criminal profits. There are infinitely more young Africans willing to shoulder guns and kill elephants than there are containers full of ivory.”

Roberts concludes, “No one should ever buy ivory, but they should also contribute resources to organizations like Born Free USA that help equip rangers on the ground, and should pressure political leaders to take action to end the corruption. As long as supply chains remain unbroken and consumer demand remains insatiable, poachers will ply their deadly trade to supply the marketplace.”

The trade in rhino horn: asset stripping on an apocalyptic scale

By Paula Kahumbu

The South African government’s plan to legalise rhino horn sales will simply make life easier for the organised crime cartels that are exterminating the species.

White rhinoceros grazing. More than 1000 were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2013

White rhinoceros grazing. More than 1000 were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2013. Photograph: Radius Images/www.jupiterimages.com

I am sitting in a large meeting room at Pretoria University in South Africa at a conference to discuss the trade in rhino horn. Expecting a fierce debate pitting conservationists against hunters and traders, instead I find myself confronting my own impotence against the most horrific poaching of rhinos. What is happening in South Africa is truly in a league of its own.

I already knew that over 1000 rhino are being poached each year in South Africa. But these were just statistics. The fact that it was happening in a far away country made me feel that this was not my problem. Besides, those are white rhinos, the South African species that is still relatively numerous. In Kenya we are mostly concerned about our own species, the critically endangered black rhino.

In short I had many reasons and excuses to not engage with this ‘South African’ problem. Now I am seeing the photos of heartbreaking suffering that poachers are inflicting on rhinos. Faces hacked open, blood saturated soil.

Then, just when I think I am getting used to the images, the videos start flowing.

In one, an animal, barely recognisable as a rhino because its head is just a bloody pulp, moves and tries to get up. I cover my face, then turn to watch, tears streaming down my face. The pain I feel in every cell of my body can not be a fraction of what this once beautiful animal was experiencing.

I look around the room of 50 or so participants, rhino owners, conservationists, scientists, veterinarians, hunters. Every face is a mask of horror and despair.

The rhino without a face tries to walk.His front left leg is broken and he stumbles and snorts in pain, it is a high pitched squeak that sends bubbles of blood out of the hole that was his horn. He struggles painfully, in circles, he can’t see the bush he stumbles into because his eyes are gone, cut out by the poachers. I can’t bear it and have to rush to the bathroom to cry. In the hall there is not a dry face in sight.

The vet and wildlife campaigner Johan Marais showed us these photos and videos to illustrate how some poached rhinos can be rescued, their horrendous wounds will eventually close if careful care is given. It will take months, maybe a year. What is left is a strange deformed creature, with a sad expression, and most of its face missing. It will be scarred for life; the horns will never grow back again. Marais’s work is heroic; rhinos’ lives are saved, but at what cost?

The carcass of a rhino in the Kruger National Park,South Africa, one of 606 killed there by poachers in 2013.

The carcass of a rhino in the Kruger National Park,South Africa, one of 606 killed there by poachers in 2013. Photograph: Foto24/Getty Images

Ironically I was at the conference called by the organization Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP) to discuss the South African government’s proposal to sell rhino horn. The Department of Environmental Affairs says it has done the maths. South Africa has 20,000 white rhino and their horns can be ‘harvested’ sustainably, without killing the animals. Selling rhino horn will generate the funds needed to support rhino conservation.

Whether wildlife conservation is really the motivation for this proposal – rather than simply making money – is open to question. The South African government did not even bother to send a delegation to the major inter-governmental conference on illegal wildlife trade in London this February.

Moreover, South Africa has form as a trader of products from endangered species. In 2000 the government put forward a similar proposal for the sale of ivory. It argued that the country’s good management of elephant populations should be rewarded. CITES approved the sale of ivory by four southern African countries first to Japan and then, in 2008, to China.

Just as conservationists at the time had warned, that sale triggered a massive demand in China and Southeast Asia leading to uncontrolled poaching that is currently decimating elephant populations across Africa. Now South Africa wants to sell rhino horn. This proposal is utterly outrageous. Here are three reasons why.

First, legalising sales will simply make life easier for the organized crime cartels that already control the trade in rhino horn.

In 1968, South Africa began allowing sport hunting of rhino, once again ostensibly to raise funds for conservation. Trophy hunting arouses strong emotions. Some conservationists, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, argue that controlled hunting can play a role in protecting species and ecosystems. Others despise the rich white males who need to kill big animals to demonstrate their masculinity, and are outraged at the idea of them coming to Africa to do it. Nevertheless trophy hunting does generate a lot of money and this has motivated some land owners to breed rhinos.

But the fact is that, of the 200 South African rhino hunts in 2013, only 15 were genuine hunts. The rest were rhinos shot by mostly Vietnamese ‘pseudo hunters’, who pay for the privilege of trophy hunting but have no intention of ever mounting their trophy on a wall. The economics are simple: the cost of hunting is about US $20,000, but the 3.5 kg horn is worth many times more when ground up into a fine dust, for sale as a ‘medicinal’ product. Current prices are estimated at up to US $75,000 per kg.

The scam is widely prevalent and has been exposed as highly organized crime by investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer in his best-selling book ‘Killing for Profit’. He tells how the Vietnamese cartels operate, how they subvert justice, how powerful they are, and how helpless rhino owners are against this foe. Owning rhinos has become a liability: it attracts criminals to your property.

At present, trade in rhino horns is illegal. The proposal to allow legal trade will simply open the floodgates to allow millions of dollars of poached rhino horn – indistinguishable from the ‘legal’ product’ – onto the market. Exactly the same happened when ivory trade was legalised at the start of the century, initiating a catastrophic decline in elephant populations across the continent.

Secondly, the idea that regulated trade in rhino horn will work as a strategy against poaching is preposterous. According to a study supporting the South African proposal, existing ‘demand’ could be met by moving 2000 adult rhinoceros – 10% of the wild population – to fenced enclosures covering a total of 400,000 ha. These a poor animals would then have their horns ‘humanely’ removed once every two years over their lifespan of 35 to 50 years.

But in reality there is no way that the supply from farmed rhino could come remotely close to meeting the demand, which is growing exponentially as consumers in the principal markets in Southeast Asia become richer.

Anyway, the criminal cartels that control the trade have no reason to buy expensive ‘farmed’ rhino, when they could just as easily poach it, or help themselves to more of the dwindling wild population in poorly protected national parks. Violence is deeply entrenched in the traffickers operations and they have no interest in the conservation of the species.

In the short term, the rarer rhinos become, the more prices will rise. Then, when rhinos are extinct, the traffickers will move on and invest their profits somewhere else. Their business model is an apocalyptic vision of asset stripping on a grand scale.

Finally, from an ethical standpoint, what is worst about this proposal is that it is based on peddling a lie. In Southeast Asia, rhino horns have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

It is now known that rhino horns have no medicinal value at all; chemically they are indistinguishable from horses’ hooves and human toenails. But Vietnamese traffickers are fuelling demand by marketing new ‘benefits’ of rhino horn, as an aphrodisiac or a cure for hangovers, or cancer.

This is quack medicine. A mandarin-speaking colleague of mine recently got into conversation with a Chinese visitor to Kenya and asked him about the purpose of his visit. “I’ve come to get rhino horn,” the man replied. “My daughter is dying and the doctor says that rhino horn is the only thing that can save her.” By allowing rhino horn to be marketed, African nations would be complicit in this kind of cruel deception.

After the conference, shocked, deeply saddened, traumatized, paralysed, and numb, I returned to Nairobi and lay in bed thinking for two days. Then on Monday, I awoke to another beautiful dawn over Nairobi Park, home of black and white rhino, which poachers already have their eyes on. We cannot allow our leaders to be complicit in the desecration of our continent. My message to the South African government is simple: for God’s sake, stop before it is too late.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/apr/17/trade-in-rhino-horn-asset-stripping-on-an-apocalyptic-scale

 

Chinese merchant gateways for ivory and rhino horns (Namibia)

From the Zambezi River to Joburg and Maputo
Hongxiang Huang and Oxpeckers, Pambazuka, Issue 673

April 10, 2014
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Namibia has enjoyed a good reputation for its nature conservation, but there is evidence the illegal trade in wildlife products is taking off.

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In the remote Zambezi region of Southern Africa, where Namibia shares international borders with Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, geography and opportunity create ideal circumstances for ivory poachers.

With more than 9,100 residential elephants and 30,000 migrating elephants, according to 2013 data, elephant poaching was not a serious issue in the transborder area until recently. In 2010 and 2011, the numbers of elephant poached in isolated cases were four and six respectively. However, in 2012 the situation changed, with at least 78 elephants poached by international smugglers in one year. By November 2013, official records showed that at least 20 elephants had been poached since the start of the year, and 35 smuggling suspects had been arrested.

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution and today more than 40 per cent of the country’s surface area is under conservation management. Community-based conservancies are well integrated into the tourism industry. In the Zambezi region, formerly known as Caprivi, officials noticed a growth in wildlife trafficking from around 2010. ‘That Chinese [man] you mentioned appears to be the most important middle player in it, although some other nationals have their channels as well,’ said Shadrick Siloka, chief warden in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) office of Katima, the capital of Zambezi region.

During my first visit to the MET office two days previously, officials had been reluctant to release any information, However, but once I shared some results from my own undercover investigation in the Chinese community of Katima, they were prepared to admit they were investigating the same person.

According to Siloka, the change in the status quo was associated with hearing the name of Guo Yunhui, a Chinese businessman in Katima. In 2010, the MET heard from informers that Guo was collecting pythons and pangolins. In 2011, Guo was arrested for buying two ivory tusks from MET staff, fined 20,000 Namibian dollars and released. But informers and the MET allege that he is again at the centre of the Namibian ivory trade, and is using the same transportation and trading routes as his formal business. My undercover investigation supported this theory.

In his everyday persona, Guo Yunhui is the owner of Sweet Guest House, the only Chinese hostel in Katima. Most of its clientele are Africans, many from Zambia. Like many other Chinese, he has his main business and then informal business, and consequently rarely shows up at his guesthouse, which is managed on a daily basis by two local women.

As a Chinese journalist I was able to meet and socialise with many Chinese shop owners in Katima, and to ask about Guo Yunhui and the trade in animal products. Zheng, a Chinese worker in a Chinese construction company near Katima, is a friend of Guo’s family and he visits them frequently. According to Zheng, Guo is still engaged in his wildlife smuggling business.

Chen, a Chinese businessman in Rundu, also confirmed that Guo is active in the business, although he didn’t characterise it as smuggling, but rather as helping Chinese in far-flung cities to acquire ivory souvenirs. Ou, a Chinese shop owner, claimed he lent Guo money when Guo was buying ivory in the past, and that Guo was conducting a lot of informal ‘side business’ of a dubious nature. However, Ou had not seen Guo for a long time.

Guo may not be the largest player in the Zambezi ivory market, according to Li, a leader in the Chinese-Fujian business communities of Namibia. Li referred to another Chinese man in Katima whom he said was found by police in early 2013 with more than 100kg of ivory, but MET said it did not know about the case. The low risk of getting caught, added to monetary incentives and the Chinese community’s lack of support for the Namibian conservation effort, are all factors encouraging and enabling wildlife smuggling.

Katima is a central hub of trading between trans-border African smugglers and Chinese shop keepers and traders. Chinese shops dominate the main road in town, and unlike employees from Chinese state-owned companies who are driven by state policy, these Chinese shop owners are usually self-driven immigrants simply looking for business space and an opportunity to make money.

Most of the time they are from second or third-tier cities or small towns in China where services are poor, and consequently they are characterized by low educational achievements and poor foreign language skills. Outside China, even the Chinese government does not have clear statistics about them, not to mention effective management.

My investigation indicated the majority of them are from Fujian province, including the ivory smuggler Guo Yunhui. Many of the shop owners are linked to the ivory trade in the guise of buying and selling of ivory souvenirs and artefacts for export and sale to tourists. Because of the widely perceived permissibility of the small ‘souvenir’ trade in ivory products, the Chinese community members are reluctant to blow the whistle on the larger ivory smugglers, and alleged involvement by Chinese diplomats themselves, even though they are aware that these individuals are ruining the reputation of Chinese businesspeople more generally in Africa.

Many Chinese shun the easy money to be made by ivory and rhino horn smuggling because they know it is wrong and illegal. But relations with host country law enforcement and conservation officers remain too weak for them to break their false loyalty to other Chinese nationals, even when they are indulging in criminal behaviour.

In Katima, it is common for Chinese people to be approached by African ivory sellers, mostly Zambians. Ou said in the 10 years he has lived in Zambezi he has been approached many times by sellers who tell him how high the profit is if he would transport ivory from Namibia to China.

This is confirmed by the MET, who recorded that the price Guo paid to the sellers of ivory was 300 Namibian dollars per kilo, whereas in Asia the selling price is at least 3 000 US dollars per kilo. In Oshikango, another border town west of Katima, I spoke to Yang, a shop owner in Chinatown. ‘Zambians used to come to our Chinatown with boxes full of ivory, and lots of Chinese shop owners have bought them,’ he said. He claimed to have taken small amounts of ivory back to China many times, and they were never found by customs.

Yang also said he had bought some rhino horn powder, but did not want to give further details ‘I know there are people smuggling full rhino horns back to China, but you are being too curious. Don’t ask too much about such things,’ he said.

‘In 2012 the amount of ivory we captured was 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the amount of ivory taken from poached elephants in Namibia,’ said Morgan Saisai, the chief control officer of MET in Katima. According to MET officials, the ivory on the Zambezi market is not only from local sources, but is being transported from surrounding countries. The criminal groups they have apprehended included Zambians, Congolese and Zimbabweans working with Namibians.

‘Zambia is where ivory and smugglers are most likely to come into Namibia,’ said Oswald Rall, a former policeman still living in the region. Katima is where it is easiest for the Chinese people to buy ivory from Zambians. Infrastructure is rapidly improving, at least because of Chinese road construction projects. Truck routes from Walvis Bay on the coast to Rundu and Katima, then on to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are relatively efficient and fast.

Using trucks and networks for transporting other goods businesses, ivory is transported to areas with the highest densities of Chinese. It is placed in the retail markets, and becomes small souvenirs for Chinese people to carry home to China in their luggage.

What is most worrying for the conservation of elephants is that the ivory trade is just one of a number of illegal behaviours which are viewed as normal and far from wrong among the Chinese residents. Eager to make personal gains, many do not care whether it is legal or not as long as punishment is avoidable. In such a context, buying small amounts of ‘souvenir’ ivory is not considered smuggling, so that a large ivory market is formed by many individuals buying small retail amounts which collectively represent a large amount wholesale. According to the Chinese who take home souvenirs, the chance of ivory being discovered by airport customs in Namibia or China is very low and even when it is found, the consequences are not severe.

During this investigation, many Chinese expressed the view that they wished the Chinese immigrant communities could be better managed in order to reduce the reputational damage being done to all Chinese people in Africa by the activities of just a few. This view is made more apposite as long as the small traders remain beyond the reach of the law, and are thus tempted to join the illegal trade.

While ivory trade in Namibia is not yet as large as in other African countries like Mozambique, it is growing. There is evidence that the scale of trade is more than a few Chinese families buying from Africans across the border and reselling small souvenirs to other Chinese people. In fact, this characterisation indicates a dangerous complacency, particularly as the evidence shows that much bigger volumes are trading through these networks – and they include wildlife products from other endangered species besides elephants.

China is responsible for an estimated 70 percent of the world trade in elephant tusk ivory, and research by the international wildlife trade monitoring organisation traffic indicates that nearly 80 percent of reported illegal rhino horn seizures in Asia between 2009 and late last year happened in China. For the first time, journalists from mainland China worked with African journalists on an undercover investigation into the Chinese role in the ivory and rhino horns market in South Africa and Mozambique.

Wildlife trafficking syndicates brazenly sell rhino horn and ivory at Chinese markets in Southern Africa’s capital cities, in the face of global attempts to crack down on the illicit trade in endangered species. Who are the people involved, and how do they go about buying these illegal products? Until it was closed, the Bruma Lake flea market in eastern Johannesburg and nearby New Chinatown have been a hub of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory in South Africa. Transactions between African sellers and Asian buyers occurred relatively openly on a daily basis.

From 9am to 5pm, sellers hung around the entrance to the Bruma flea market and eagerly surround Chinese people as they approach. ‘What are you looking for? Do you want xiangya? I have,’ said Mike, a seller who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘Do you have xiniujiao?’ we asked. Xiangya is the Chinese term for ivory, xiniujiao for rhino horns, and it is clear Mike, as well as many other shop owners, is familiar with the terms. ‘Xiniujiao… anytime but now. If you come back next month, maybe I could help you get some. Now it is impossible,’ said Mike.

He opened a door which is covered by a hanged blanket, showed us into a secret room near his craft shop where he has a stock of worked ivory products: small sculptures of elephants, chopsticks, necklaces, bracelets. The price is not too expensive, starting at $20 a piece. Matt, a Zimbabwean who works in Mike’s craft shop, said most of the rhino horns and ivory they are selling comes from his home country. He explained how he imports it: ‘There is a river that divides the two countries and we find a part where the water is not too deep and there is almost no security patrolling. We take off our clothes and carry the stuff on our shoulders across the river.’ His biggest concern was crocodiles in some parts of the Limpopo River.

Other shop owners in the market called out to us with offers of xiangya and xiniujiao. ‘Your Chinese friends may find it hard to get rhino horns, but we are Africans, we know how.’ said Ernest, another shop owner from the Congo,

Along Derrick Avenue in New Chinatown, home to most of Johannesburg’s recent Chinese immigrants, we spoke to Gong, a taxi driver whose business card includes various services related to immigration, the embassy and police. ‘It is easy to buy ivory and I could help you tell which ones are fake — I have been buying it for many years,’ he says.

Ivory is just one of the businesses Gong has engaged in since he immigrated to South Africa six years ago. Like most Chinese in the New Chinatown community, he did not have a good educational background and barely speaks English. He used to assist a friend running a brothel until police closed it down.

However, he does not think it is a good idea for a visitor to purchase rhino horns here because it has become too risky. ‘Nowadays it is more dangerous than drugs,’ he said. ‘Even if I could get it for you, I would not take the risk of selling it to an outsider like you rather than known partners. Ivory and rhino horns are like weed [dagga] and heroine.’

Gong says fewer Chinese are directly involved in smuggling rhino horn these days, although some still buy from Vietnamese traffickers. Consumers would be better advised to buy horn in China, where he could introduce us to sellers, he adds. China accounted for an estimated two-thirds of the number and weight of horns seized in Asia between 2009 and September 2012, according to figures collated by Traffic.

Many employees of Chinese companies in South Africa avoid New Chinatown, so named to distinguish it from the original Chinatown in central Johannesburg, because of its reputation for being involved with smuggling and other dangerous business. ‘I would usually not go to the New Chinatown area. There is a mix of good people and various criminals,’ says Zhang Jinguo, the head of the Chinese Construction Bank in Johannesburg.

Among the Chinese residents of Johannesburg, it is common knowledge that the Chinese buy ivory and rhino horn much more often in Maputo, capital city of neighbouring Mozambique. The Saturday market at Praça 25 de Junho in Maputo is the main buying site for employees of Chinese companies who are not well educated and have unskilled jobs. ‘The products are unique and cheap,’ says Chen, a frequent Chinese buyer in Maputo who works for a Chinese construction company.

At the Saturday market, Kai, a 29-year-old working for a Chinese telecommunications company, is shooting a video to send to his families in China. ‘Hello dears, look where I am. This is the most famous ivory market here, I will bring you some good stuff,’ he says.

Shop owners like Adam are visibly excited when they see a group of Chinese people approaching. ‘Come, we have heimu and xiangya,’ he says. He says the Chinese are generally interested in buying two things in Mozambique: heimu, which is a black wood, and xiangya, namely ivory.

He also offers rhino horns at $15,000 a kilogram, though he says he does not keep it in the marketplace because it is too expensive. He opens a big box filled with various ivory products and displays them openly. However, when some Chinese customers lift the ivory too high he asks them to put them down, in case the police notice and make trouble.

Dong, an employee of a Chinese national oil company who has been in Mozambique for almost four years, is browsing through the market with three colleagues. He is mostly interested in buying bracelets made of black wood, animal horns and ivory. After bargaining, he buys two ivory bracelets for about $50 and his colleague buys two as well. ‘We will need to take them apart and hide the pieces in the corners of our luggage. Then even if customs finds some we can still make them up into bracelets again in China,’ Dong advises his less-experienced colleague.

As Dong’s group walks away, a nearby shop owner reminds them to hide their ivory bracelets inside their pockets, because if the police see them they will ask for money to ‘solve the problem’. Policemen are patrolling the market all the time, but they seem more interested in asking foreigners for their passports and money than finding ivory.

Unlike the Saturday ‘ivory market’, the craft market on nearby Mao Tse Tung avenue opens every day. Chen, who has worked for a Maputo-based Chinese construction company for the past two years, is going back home in December and needs to stock up on souvenirs for friends and families. He buys two pairs of ivory chopsticks, and says even though they may be confiscated by customs he can afford the loss. ‘Sometimes they pass and these things are cheap enough to be taken away if we have bad luck,’ he says.

A colleague recently bought a large ivory sculpture and when it was found by customs officers in Mozambique he paid $300 to get it through. No one at customs in Beijing found it, Chen says. He has a good collection of ivory products, and believes they can be an investment. ‘When you have enough money, you display them in your house. When you need money, you can always sell them,’ he says.

Most of the Chinese buyers know where the ivory comes from, but don’t care about the slaughter of elephants. Kai, one of the buyers of ivory bracelets, sums up their feeling when he admits that he did not feel guilty about buying ivory products even though he knows how the sellers get it. However, there are some Chinese who refuse to buy into the market. ‘These items are art from killing,’ says Xu, a friend and colleague of Kai. But he indicates that there are few Chinese like him.

The Chinese embassy in Pretoria challenged this investigation in a letter published by the Mail & Guardian. Pan Peng, the embassy’s press counsellor, wrote: ‘The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of wildlife and has promulgated laws and regulations in this concern, established a multi-sectoral joint law-enforcement mechanism, and taken various measures to protect wildlife and raise public awareness.’ As a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1981, China has long been committed to co-operation with South Africa on wildlife protection, Peng said.

* Chinese journalist and recent Oxpeckers fellow Hongxiang Huang, along with other journalists who chose not to be named, travelled to smuggling hotspots across Southern Africa, including capital cities and the Zambezi border region where five Southern African countries intersect to investigate the Chinese connection. The investigation by the Oxpeckers center of investigative environmental journalists was supported by the Wits China-Africa reporting programme and the forum of African investigative reporters. Some names have not been divulged because of the sensitive nature of this investigation.

Article at the following link:

Kenya: Alert Over Poaching in Narok

By Kiplang’at Kirui, The Star

11 April 2014

NAROK County Commissioner Farah Kassim has said the security agencies were on high alert following various incidences of wildlife poaching in the recent past.

Kassim said security apparatus were ready to deal ruthlessly with poachers who have claimed a number of endangered species of animals in the world-famous Maasai Mara Game reserve and in private conservancies in the county.

Addressing media in his office yesterday, Kassim said most of the killings were being executed with the use of guns and poisoned arrows and spears, an indication that the locals were involved.

He urged the public to volunteer information every time such incidences occur in order to have the culprits arrested.

The administrator revealed that some three suspects were facing charges in court over the killing of two elephants in the Mara two weeks ago.

A male black rhino was also killed at Paradise plains in Musiala Conservancy last month raising concerns about the safety of our wildlife with several hundreds of kilogrammes of zebra meat also being nabbed during the month.

Alsothe police recovered three elephant tusks worth Sh1.4million in a house near Narok town on Tuesday.

This comes as Conservationists voice concern over the survival of elephants and other endangered species in the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the conservancies around it after Kenya Wildlife Service reported that 10 jumbos had been killed by poachers in the area in the last five months.

The elephant tusks and the rhino horns are said to be on high demand in some Asian countries where they are said to be used to make various ornaments and are said to also be of medicinal value.

Article at the following link:

Rift Valley Police net elephant tusks worth Sh1.2m in Narok, suspects escape (Kenya)

By Kipchumba Kemei, Standard Digital
April 8th 2014
Narok, Kenya: Police in Narok have seized three pieces of elephant tusks worth more than Sh1.2 million in a private residence outside the town.
The tusks, which police say was to be transported to Nairobi by a taxi, are suspected to have originated from areas bordering Maasai Mara Game Reserve
The area county commander Samuel Mukindia said the tusks, which were seized on Monday evening from a residential house in Total area where it was hidden, weighed more than 48 kg, adding that the occupants of the house escaped the police dragnet.
“We were tipped off and we laid a trap but when the house occupants realised we were closing in, they escaped through a back door,” said Mukindia.
He added that the owner of the contraband, who had hired a taxi to transport them to the city at night, was alerted about police presence by the occupants, forcing him to abandon the mission.
The operation, the first in the region where poachers have killed dozens of elephants and a black rhinos this year, was being coordinated by Narok North deputy police boss Paul Cheruiyot and the deputy Criminal CID officer Daniel Gatimu. Mukindia said a hunt for the occupants of the rented house, who escaped moments before the raid, has been launched and asked the public to assist them in giving any information about their whereabouts.
“We have details about them. With the public support, we will definitely apprehend them,” Mukindia said but declined to say how many they were for fear that it would jeopardize investigations.

Tanzania: Self-Confessed Poacher Files Against Sentence

Tanzania Daily News
2 April 2014

A CHINESE national, Yu Bo, who was recently jailed 20 years after his failure to pay a 9bn/- fine for unlawful possession of government trophies worth over 978m/-, has filed a notice of appeal to challenge the sentence passed against him.

He filed the notice of appeal at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam, expressing his intention to appeal to the High Court to challenge the sentence given by Senior Resident Magistrate  Devota Kisoka on March 18, this year.

The magistrate convicted the Chinese poacher on his own plea of guilt. After the conviction, the magistrate imposed the severe sentence to serve as a lesson to other like-minded people.

“The accused person is sentenced to pay 9,781,204,900/-. In default, he should serve 20 years’ imprisonment,” the magistrate had declared after considering the mitigation factors presented by the convict seeking the court’s mercy.

Bo had told the court that it was his first time to be convicted in a criminal case and had several dependants. The prosecution, led by Senior State Attorney Faraja Nchimbi, on the other hand, sought for a severe sentence because the offence committed was serious.

Facts of the case show that the convict entered the country for business purposes on November 26, last year. Shortly after his arrival, he initiated communications with a syndicate of poachers within and outside Tanzania for the purpose of poaching elephants and other animals, including pangolins.

In the process, the convict and other poachers who are yet to be arrested managed to collect 81 elephant tusks and two pangolin scales which were eventually hidden in Mwenge area in Kinondoni district in the city.

The accused had no permit from the Director of Wildlife Division allowing him to possess the said ivory tusks and the pangolin scales. On December 30, last year, in the evening, the convict loaded the government trophies on a Mazda pick-up with registration No. T 218 BUY.

Covered with other various animal carvings, Bo then transported the said trophies to Dar es Salaam port with intent to ship them to the People’s Republic of China. On arrival at the gate of the port at around 20.30pm, he asked permission to go to one of the docked ships.

Before being granted permission, security officers on duty searched the motor vehicle and uncovered the said 81 elephant tusks and the two pangolin scales which were concealed in wooden boxes on board the pick-up.

Bo was subsequently arrested and taken to the police station for interrogation. During the session, the convict admitted being found with the government trophies and that he had not secured any permit.

Article at the following link:

Will this man’s tears save our elephants? (Kenya)

Daily Nation

March 30, 2014

When an elephant was killed last week at the Aberdare National Park, Mr Allan Wanyama, a game ranger, wept.

Cameras caught the distraught ranger, rifle in hand, crying as he stood desolately over the animal, which still had blood oozing from its wounds.

“It was a mixture of emotion and bitterness,” explains Wanyama, 24. “At that moment I would not have  spared any of the poachers. I almost lost my mind at the sight of the carcass of the animal, which was everybody’s favourite at the park.”

He adds that he had developed a close attachment to the animal during the period he had served at the park.

For Wanyama, painful memories of the friendly animal was the last straw.

The ruthlessness of the poaching cartels and the number of KWS officers whose lives have been cut short by the ruthless gangs had made him a bitter and worried man, hence his sadness at the death of the elephant that Sundaymorning.

“Looking at the carcass of such an animal is like waking up in the morning and finding your boss dead and realising that in a short time you face the possibility of being jobless.

The government has given me a gun and houses me to look after the animals. I felt let down,” he explains.

That morning, as Wayama and his colleagues patrolled the forest, they heard gunshots.

They headed in the direction from which the shots had come and soon came across the animal that had been killed. They interrupted the poachers because the tusks had only been partially removed.

“The poachers must have been on the alert and fled when they heard us approaching,” he says.

The fleeing poachers left food, assorted pairs of shoes, and a tent, an indication that they were so sure they would not be detected that they had camped in the forest.

The slain elephant was the biggest of the herd and, according to Wanyama, very friendly to tourists.

“He was not hostile and many people loved him because, instead of running away the way the others did, he would move closer, causing great excitement among the visitors,” he recalls.

Although some of Wanyama’s friends viewed his reaction as extreme and teased him about mourning an elephant, recent statistics on the poaching of elephants and rhinos in the country is no laughing matter.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acting director William Kiprono says that in the past three months, poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants. Last year, the country lost 59 rhinos and 302 elephants to poaching, while in 2012 it lost 30 rhinos and 384 elephants to the criminal gangs.

“We attribute the problem of poaching in Kenya and the rest of Africa to growing demand and the high prices being offered for rhino horn and elephant tusks in Far East countries as the ready market continues to spur the illegal sale of ivory and rhino horns,” he says, adding that poachers not only use sophisticated weapons, but have resorted to silent methods, which makes it difficult for rangers on patrol to detect their presence.

In parks such as Lake Nakuru, the rising water levels have caused grazing land for rhinos to shrink, forcing the animals to move to areas near the edge of the park, making them easy targets for poachers.

Besides, Lake Nakuru is located in a cosmopolitan area, so poachers easily sneak into the park, kill rhinos, and disappear into the town undetected.

Kiprono says KWS has adopted a multifaceted strategy that brings together law enforcement agencies, the Judiciary, and the community in an attempt to curb the menace.

“We have increased collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both in the region and internationally, to ensure more robust intelligence gathering. The collaboration includes follow-ups on suspected poaching gangs, surveillance at all ports of entry and exit, and overt operations in wildlife areas,” he offers.

His views are echoed by Mr Aggrey Maumo, the KWS assistant director in charge of the Mountain conservation area, who says that poaching of rhinos and elephants is conducted by a complex web and that what they are fighting is just the low end of it.

“The main movers and shakers of this trade are very powerful people who have created very complex syndicates. It will take more than our efforts alone to crack it. All Kenyans must work with the authorities if we are to succeed,” he says.

PRICELESS IVORY
According to a report released by the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) last month, the high prices that ivory fetches continue to drive the trade.

The reports reads in part: “With ivory’s market value reaching $900 (Sh77,400) per kilogramme in China, the financial stakes are high, and it appears sponsors are adopting bold new tactics to satisfy demand.”

“One criminal syndicate will gather a poaching gang together and that poaching gang will be assigned instructions to kill a specific herd of elephants or to provide a specific amount of ivory,” says Mr William Clark of Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme.

“We are alive to the fact that wildlife, particularly rhinos and elephants, are increasingly becoming vulnerable because of high demand for their horns and ivory respectively. Poaching of this prized wildlife has become more organised, sophisticated, and international in nature,” Clark adds.

Despite the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which stipulates tough punishment for those convicted of poaching — including life imprisonment or a Sh20 million fine — the trade continues unabated.

Yet for people like Wanyama, the loss of every animal counts. He says the long and lonely hours spent in the wild with the animals not only make the rangers attached to them, it also allows the officers to know the individual character of some of the animals.

“Their behaviour is very similar to that of human beings; some are reserved while others are hostile. Yet others can decide to be naughty, always looking for the slightest opportunity to cause destruction,” he enthuses.

The ranger believes that his destiny with wild animals was determined when his parents named him Wanyama, which is Kiswahili for animals.

“My parents might have had cultural reasons for naming me Wanyama, but throughout school, fellow students often referred to me as a wild animal. Those are the things that shaped my destiny,” he says, gazing into the thick bushes.

He explains that in his Bukusu community, the name Wanyama is given to a boy born during the  circumcision period, a time during which people make merry and, therefore, most homes with initiates have meat in plenty.

And when KWS advertised for recruits, he applied and was successful. After training, he was posted to the Aberdare National Park, where he has served for three years.

“When I was employed, I knew that my responsibilities were to sustain, manage, and conserve wildlife. When one of your biggest animals dies, and if they continue dying at this rate, KWS will have no role in this country as there will no longer be any wildlife to conserve,” he laments.

He acknowledges that looking after the animals is an enormous task.

The rugged terrain, poachers who are getting more sophisticated by the day, and inadequate staff are some of the challenges Wanyama and his colleagues have to contend with daily. It is a job to which he gives his all irrespective of the weather, so it pains him when poachers kill an animal.

Wanyama says he has developed such a strong attachment to the wildlife that he would not trade his gun for any other profession. At home he keeps cows, goats, and doves.

Indeed, Maumo says that some of the rangers get so attached to the wildlife that when an animal is killed, they get deeply affected.

“We are aware that the officers work under difficult conditions but encourage them and try as much as possible to address the issues that arise from time to time.

“But wildlife conservation is not the responsibility of KWS alone. We are engaging with the neighbouring villages to help us fight the poachers,” he says.

Maumo says poachers have created an elaborate syndicate that calls for a multi-pronged approach to deal with.

It is notable that even as he talks of the involvement of criminal gangs, Kiprono acknowledges that 17 KWS employees have been fired over poaching, while 13 others were retired in the public interest, an indication that some insiders could be collaborating with the poachers.

And as long as that continues, poaching will remain a hard nut to crack.

FACTS AND FIGURES
18
Number of rhinos killed since January
51
Number of elephants killed since January
302
Number of elephants killed in 2013
$900
Cost per kilogramme of ivory in China. 3.5 tonnes of ivory were seized in Mombasa last year!

———————————————————————————————————————–
COMPASSIONATE JUMBOS

Elephants are known to be highly social and intelligent creatures.

And now there is evidence that they engage in something like a group hug when a fellow elephant is in distress.

Mr Joshua Plotnick, who leads a conservation and education group called Think Elephants and teaches conservation at Mahidol University in Thailand, studied elephants at a park in Chiang Rai Province in Thailand to look for consolation behaviour.

As defined by Franz de Waal, Plotnick’s PhD adviser at Emory University, “Consolation behaviour involves bystanders responding in a reassuring way to an animal that is in emotional distress because of a conflict with another member of the group.”

“We’re pretty confident it’s relatively rare in animals,” Plotnick said in an interview, adding that there was evidence of the behaviour in apes, wolves, and some birds, and that there had been anecdotal reports of such behaviour in dolphins and elephants.

Elephants clearly have strong emotional connections to other elephants and are highly intelligent, so it made sense to think that they might console one another. To find out, Plotnick observed 26 elephants in six groups at a managed park.

When one elephant was disturbed, he said, other elephants gathered around it. They made high-pitched sounds and touched the distressed elephant, trunk to mouth or trunk to genitals, which are reassuring gestures among elephants.

Plotnick said that since he could not always observe the original source of the distress, he could not say that the behaviour met the narrow definition of consolation as it was not clear whether it followed conflict.

The elephants might have been scared by a person, dog, or, in some cases, a noise that humans could not hear. But he said that in every other way, the behaviour showed that they were acting to reassure the elephant that was upset.

Vietnam in two minds about destructing wildlife contraband

Tuoitrenews
March 31, 2014

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Vietnamese authorities now have a total of 27 tons of elephant tusks and hundreds of kilograms of rhino horn which were confiscated from wildlife traffickers.

In response to this information, Assoc. Prof. Dr Pham Van Luc, chairman of the Scientific Council of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, said the museum is currently keeping large quantities of ivory tusks, rhino horns, tortoise scales, and many animal parts of precious and rare species.

Of these items, only a small quantity is on display, while the rest are carefully preserved in warehouses, Dr. Luc said.

As a rule, concerned agencies must destroy such products to emphasize their disapproval of wildlife trafficking.

However, given that the total material value of these items is very high, local competent bodies are considering how to handle them properly, Dr. Luc said.

The council has come up with the idea that such items could be processed to make souvenirs, but such an act would violate international conventions as well as Vietnamese regulations pertaining to the conservation and protection of wildlife, Dr. Luc added.

Regarding this matter, on March 24, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development suggested that ivory tusks, rhino horns, and tiger bones should be destroyed in accordance with Vietnam’s ban on the trade in wildlife.

“We hope a meeting will be held so that concerned agencies can discuss the issue and reach a final decision on how to handle the seized items,” he said, following the ministry’s suggestion.

Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. Dang Huy Huynh, chairman of the Vietnam Animal Association, said he has a special interest in whether ivory tusks and rhino horns should be destroyed or stored.

The destruction of such wildlife would be a waste because it is worth a lot of money, which could be used to promote the conservation of wildlife, said Dr. Huynh.

“But it is our association’s view to support the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s suggestion to destroy illegal goods,” Dr. Huynh added.

Last month, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued a directive, ordering a fierce combat against trafficking in rare and endangered animals or their parts to recover the country’s poor reputation regarding the protection of its wildlife.

The directive was made following the recent discovery of trafficking in endangered and rare wild animals in Vietnam, including rhino horn, African elephant tusks, and tigers.

The premier asked concerned agencies to conduct more patrols and inspections in border areas, international airports, and ports to help detect and prevent wildlife trafficking.

Zambezi’s ivory poaching exposed

Hongxiang Huang, Informante
March 27, 2014

AN investigation by the Oxpeckers Centre of Investigative Environmental Journalists revealed that the Zambezi Region, where five SADC countries, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe intersect with Namibia is a smuggling hotspot.

With more than 9 100 residential elephants and 30 000 migrating elephants according to 2013 data, elephant poaching was not a serious issue in the trans-border area until recently. However, in 2012 the situation changed, with at least 78 elephants poached by international smugglers in one year. By November 2013, official records showed that at least 20 elephants had been poached since the start of the year, and 35 smuggling suspects had been arrested.

According to Shadrick Siloka, chief warden in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) office of Katima Mulilo, a Chinese man was mentioned that apparently plays an important role as middleman in the smuggling trade. Siloka said that the name of Guo Yunhui, a Chinese businessman in Katima Mulilo keeps turning up as far as ivory smuggling is concerned. In 2010, the MET heard from informers that Guo was collecting pythons and pangolins. In 2011, Guo was arrested for buying two ivory tusks from MET staff, fined N$20 000 and released.

Zheng, a Chinese construction worker near Katima, claims Guo is still engaged in the wildlife smuggling business. Chen, a Chinese businessman in Rundu, also confirmed that Guo is active in the business.

Guo may not be the largest player in the Zambezi ivory market, according to Li, a leader in the Chinese Fujian business community of Namibia. Li referred to another Chinese man in Katima Mulilo, who he said was found by police in early 2013 with more than 100kg of ivory, but MET said it did not know about the case.

The Chinese community members are reluctant to blow the whistle on the larger ivory smugglers, and alleged involvement by Chinese diplomats themselves.

In Katima Mulilo, it is common for Chinese people to be approached by African ivory sellers, mostly Zambians. The MET officials confirmed that the price Guo paid to the sellers of ivory was N$300 per kilo, whereas in Asia the selling price is at least US$3 000 per kilo.

“In 2012 the amount of ivory we captured was 70% to 80% of the amount of ivory taken from poached elephants in Namibia,” said Morgan Saisai, the chief control officer of MET in Katima Mulilo.

According to the Chinese, the chance of ivory being discovered by airport customs in Namibia or China is very low, and even when it is found, the consequences are not severe.

On Monday, three Chinese nationals were arrested at the Hosea Kutako International Airport while in possession of 14 rhino horns in luggage. The trio, Li Xiao Liang (30), Li Zhi Bing (50) and Pu Xu Nin (49) appeared in court on Tuesday and were remanded in custody. They will appear again in court next week Wednesday. They are said to have travelled to Namibia from Zambia, and enterered through the Zambezi Region’s Wenela border post. They were about to fly to Johannesburg when they are arrested.

Belgium to Destroy Its Illegal Ivory Next Month

By Denise Chow, Staff Writer   |   March 26, 2014 03:57pm ET

Belgium is slated to destroy its entire stockpile of illegal ivory next month, joining the United States, China and several other countries in taking a stand against wildlife trafficking.

Earlier this month, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx announced plans to destroy all the illegal ivory seized by customs, on April 9. A special ceremony will be held to mark the occasion, with dignitaries from the Belgian government present.

Onkelinx made the announcement March 3 at an event celebrating Belgium’s involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]

“The Belgian government should be saluted for taking a firm and public stand on ivory trafficking and working to save the world’s threatened elephants,” Sonja Van Tichelen, European Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Rampant ivory poaching is causing precipitous declines in elephant populations, and the Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96elephants are killed each day by poachers in Africa. The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but the demand for ivory now is higher than ever, and lucrative black markets have emerged around the world.

“Not only are we losing an elephant every 15 minutes but the ivory trade is undercutting law and order in elephant range states and enriching organized crime syndicates — the slaughter of elephants must be stopped,” Van Tichelen said.

Belgium is set to join several other countries that recently destroyed their stockpiles of ivory. In February, France crushed more than 15,000 pieces of ivory, which included carvings, jewelry and other trinkets that were confiscated by customs agents.

In January, China, the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory, joined the effort by crushing 6 tons of its own ivory tusks and carved ornaments. The United States destroyed its ivory stockpile — collected from more than 25 years of confiscations and smuggling busts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — in November.

Officials in Hong Kong also announced their plan to burn more than 30 tons of elephant tusks and ivory products throughout the first half of this year. Recently, officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam announced they are considering crushing the country’s stores of rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger bone.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.livescience.com/44399-belgium-ivory-crush.html