Category Archives: Rhino poaching

Asia’s World City: epicentre of the ivory trade

Conservationist Richard Bonham has been combating the ivory trade in Kenya for 40 years. Now the ‘white Maasai’ is shining a light on Hong Kong’s dirty little secret, writes John Vidal

Most tourists who walk into Hong Kong’s many licensed ivory stores and carving factories browse the displays of statues, pendants and jewellery and accept the official assurances that it all comes from sustainable sources.

But not the reserved middle-aged man who last month went into a shop in Queen’s Road Central. What started with a few polite questions about the provenance of the objects on show turned swiftly to confrontation. Within minutes he was furious and the owner had threatened to call the police.

Having spent nearly 40 years trying to protect elephants and other African wildlife from poachers, Richard Bonham says he was shocked to see, for the first time, the Hong Kong stores where most of the world’s ivory ends up. The statistics, he says, show that Africa’s elephant population has crashed from 1.3 million in 1979 to about 400,000 today. In the past three years alone, about 100,000 elephants have been killed by poachers and more are now being shot than are being born. Rhinos are on the edge, too.

For a Hong Kong shopkeeper, each trinket is something to profit from. But for Bonham, they tell a story of cruelty, desperation and exploitation.

“I wanted to see for myself. Yes, I was angry. There’s no other word for it. I saw the shops with huge stocks that, despite the import ban, are not dwindling. Yet the [Hong Kong] government has chosen not to recognise or address the lack of legitimacy of their trade.

“The experience of seeing the end destination of ivory was important to me. It completed the circle from seeing elephant herds stampeding in terror at the scent of man, from seeing the blood-soaked soil around lifeless carcasses to whimsical trinkets in glass display cases.”

Bonham is a co-founder of the Big Life Foundation, which, with help from conservation organisations such as Tusk, now employs more than 300 community scouts to protect the wildlife on 800,000 hectares of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, in southern Kenya, at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

In London last week to receive the Prince William Lifetime Achievement Award for conservation, he produced a Hong Kong government document that showed how the former British colony holds more than 100 tonnes of ivory despite a 25-year-old import ban that was meant to eliminate all stocks 10 years ago. It is proof, he says, that the Hong Kong government knows its traders have been topping up their stocks with “black”, or illegal, ivory from poached elephants, yet does nothing.

Back in Africa, he says, the trade causes carnage and impoverished environments.

“I have watched [the number of] elephants in the Selous Game Reserve, in Tanzania, drop from over 100,000 animals to probably less than 10,000 today and that number is still falling. During a one-hour drift down the Rufiji River three years ago I was seeing up to six different elephant herds coming down to drink. Now I see none – they’ve gone, back to dust and into the African soil, with their ivory shipped off to distant lands. There is a silence on that river that will take decades to fill – if at all.”

But despite the statistics, he says he is upbeat for conservation, at least in the Amboseli National Park, in Kenya, where Bonham lives among the Maasai.

“It’s not all bad news, it’s not too late. We have got poaching there more or less under control. We are seeing elephants on the increase and lions, which 15 years ago were on the verge of local extinction, have increased by 300 per cent. But probably more importantly we are seeing local communities setting aside land for conservancies and wildlife.

“Our recipe has been simple. We are dealing with communal Maasai lands – a 6,000 sq km ecosystem. We have employed 300 guys from the communities and placed them around the park in outposts. They know the people, so it’s a huge informal network. They have a vested interest in stopping poaching. They are all on a salary and incentives.

If they recover a firearm or ivory, each team gets about US$1,000. If they recover bushmeat from hunters they get less.

Since 2011, they have made 1,420 arrests and 3,012 weapons have been confiscated.”

The compensation scheme costs about US$300,000 a year to run, with money coming from Western wildlife groups and the profits from a small tourist lodge that Bonham set up.

The work is a mix of education, development and conservation, he says. Big Life has built schools and the Maasai have been taught to use a global positioning system and bloodhounds to track poachers.

“There are several types of poacher. One group comes over from Tanzania. They are sometimes armed, sometimes bushmeat guys. Then there are gangs from Somalia and guys from the communities. People get shot. I’ve been threatened many times. But my game scouts are risking their lives every day out in the bush. So why should I be any different?

“The communities who live with these wild animals are spurred on by a new awareness and economic incentives made available through conservation. They now own and drive the process; they fight for conservation, not against it. One of our sergeants said to me the other day, when we found an elephant carcass with its face hacked away, ‘When I started this job I was just doing it for the money. Now, when I see this, I get angry … very angry.’” But he accepts his community game scout approach to conservation may not work everywhere.

“What we have done would not necessarily work in other areas, like Tsavo, which is eight times larger than Amboseli.” But it could be applied on its boundaries, he says. “In the long term, I think the only way that wildlife [in Africa] will be protected is with fences.”

The lessons have been learned over a lifetime on the frontline of conservation. Bonham’s parents came from a now extinct generation of British colonial wildlife guards. His father, Jack, was one of Kenya’s first game wardens and lost a leg to an elephant; his mother was the daughter of another warden. He himself is now known as Enkasi – “the white Maasai”.

“My first wildlife memory, at the age of five, was hanging on to my father’s shorts watching him shoot what at that time was considered vermin. It was a black rhino. For a very young kid to see his father shoot a rhino left a very strong impression. There was this huge dead animal.

My wife’s grandfather, also a colonial game warden, was given the task to shoot 1,000 rhino in one small area to clear land for settlement. That was only 60 years ago. Today a large part of my life is spent protecting the last eight remaining rhino from this very same population.

“It is extraordinary how things have changed. It was such a different world in those days. A game warden’s job then was anti-poaching and protection but a huge part of it was dealing with problem animals, like rogue elephants. There was only one form of control then, and that was lethal. You shot them.”

These days, he and his teams avoid killing where possible but predators such as leopards, lions, cheetahs and hyenas are a constant problem.

It’s a mystery to wildlife conservationists and animal welfare advocates how, with such high demand from mainland tourists (many of whom have little awareness of the poaching crisis in Africa), the total amount of “legal” ivory in Hong Kong has changed so little in the last three years. According to Hong Kong government statistics, the total stood at 116.5 tonnes in 2011, 118.7 tonnes in 2012 and 117.1 tonnes last year. In that time, the number of holders of licences to possess ivory increased from 431 to 447. So, why isn’t this stockpile going down?

The change from 2011 to 2012 is explained by the government as “a net increase of 2.2 tonnes of registered ivory from non-commercial to commercial purpose”.

It’s an open secret that many tourists who come to Hong Kong smuggle ivory products back home. Fines and penalties for ivory trafficking remain low: six-month sentences were handed down by a Hong Kong magistrate to 16 Vietnamese ivory traffickers caught red-handed at Chek Lap Kok airport in June.

Ivory-buying tourists are indirectly fuelling the global illegal wildlife trade – the fourth largest type of illegal trafficking, after those in drugs, arms and people. Furthermore, the sale of an ivory trinket from a store in Mong Kok, Sheung Wan or North Point could be financing terrorist militias in Africa, such as al-Shabab, Boko Haram or the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The Hong Kong government, which says it still has 18 tonnes of seized illegal ivory from the 28 tonnes it began incinerating in May, could do so much more to raise awareness about this urgent issue. It could start by legislating for a complete ivory trade ban, to help save the magnificent African elephant before it’s too late.

Alex Hofford is founder of Hong Kong for Elephants and a wildlife campaigner for WildAid.

“An elephant can trample a crop in 10 minutes. This year we have had four people killed by them. We try to scare them. We have guys out at night. We use bangers and paintball guns to shoot chilly bombs. When one hits an elephant, they get a whiff and a sore nose. But they realise that big bangs are not dangerous. They learn.

“I am not optimistic [generally] about the elephant or the rhino. But there are solutions. The whole reason it is happening is because ivory is so valuable. You will never succeed with law enforcement on its own.

You must get the price down. There’s a lot of temptation.” According to Bonham, one elephant’s ivory can fetch as much as US$10,000.

“In the 1980s the market for ivory was Japan, Europe and the EU. The Bloody Ivory campaign educated people and the market fell.

“Kenya is passing a new wildlife act making killing an elephant much more serious. That helps. But you have to get the price to drop. Policing is not enough. It has to come from both ends. China, Kenya – everyone must act.”

Guardian News & Media

 

Hong Kong continues to be a hub for the illegal ivory trade

It is a little known fact that the blame for the elephant poaching crisis of the 1980s, which resulted in the global ivory ban of 1989, can be laid squarely at the feet of Hong Kong’s ivory traders. And they’re still at it.

Although it has been proven that Africa lost 100,000 elephants from 2010 to the end of 2012, no one in authority in Hong Kong is questioning how the city’s ivory traders are still able to dip into stocks that should have been depleted long ago. (Traders were allowed to keep and use any stocks of ivory they had when the 1989 ban came into effect.)

Local concern groups have recently been staging protests outside some of the stores that still openly sell ivory in the city – ivory that is almost certainly sourced from elephants killed illegally since 1989. A quick carbon-14 test to verify the age of the ivory would probably confirm this.

I met Richard Bonham, of the Big Life Foundation, while he was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, and was happy to share with him the data I have been collecting on the city’s dirty little ivory-trade secret, so he could take them to a wider audience. Looking at the graph I shared with Bonham (see page 30), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that local ivory traders are topping up their supposedly legal stocks from somewhere.

The city’s ivory traders appear to be making fools of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Of course, much of the ivory smuggled into Hong Kong is bound for the mainland, but it seems probable that a substantial amount remains in the city, to be sold to tourists.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1659309/asias-world-city-epicentre-ivory-trade

The difficulties of measuring elephant tusk and rhino horn exports

Ben Hamilton, The Guardian
9 December 2014
In mid-November, Interpol announced a list of nine wanted men involved with poaching and wildlife trade. One of these men was the alleged “ringleader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya”, Feisal Mohamed Ali.
Earlier in the year, 46 countries signed an agreement in London aimed at tackling the illegal wildlife trade.
But how much ivory is actually leaving Africa?
The Convention on international trade in endangered species (CITES) keeps records and assigns quotas for any wildlife export, from live animals to skin samples. For elephants, CITES issues quotas to a few countries in Africa allowing the export of tusks, taking in account regional elephant populations and how much hunting would be sustainable.
In many countries, the sale of ivory is illegal, but the collection of tusks as hunting trophies is not. Many African countries claim that trophy hunting and the tourism it brings is valuable to their economy.
Below is a map of these exports since 2000. The red indicates the amount of tusks exported, and the dark circles indicate the countries quotas. The lighter red accounts for exports recorded as “trophies”. The blue areas shows the elephant population range.
Most of the exports occur in the south of the continent, despite the elephants’ range reaching through central Africa to the west.
South Africa appears to have consistently broken their quota which has been growing steadily from 86 in 2000 to 300 in 2013.
The largest exporter is Zimbabwe and the second largest is neighbouring Botswana. However, Zimbabwe never breaks its quota of 800 tusks, besides in 2003 when the quota was not renewed, only to return the following year at an increased 1,000.
Botswana breaks quota several times. In 2000, including “trophies”, Botswana exported 368 tusks, which is eight over its quota.
After years of high exports close to quota, in 2006 its quota is expanded to 540 and its exports increased in kind. In 2008 exports explode to 6,505. The following year its quota grew again to 800, but its exports shrink down to similar levels to before 2000.
Such an anomaly may be due to errors in reportage; each year, countries are required to fill out reports of how many exports and imports occurred for each species under CITES observation. When reports between importer and exporter don’t match, totals are counted twice.
This may also explain South Africa’s over exportation of ivory. However, a look into similar data for rhino horn unveils a familiar pattern.
Only two countries have been given quotas for the export of Rhino horn, Namibia and South Africa, both set at five horns. However, before these quotas were put in place in 2005, South Africa had been reportedly exporting horns, all of which belonged to the white rhino.
South Africa also recently reported that the amount of discovered poached rhinos in 2014 had exceeded 2013 numbers, reaching 1,020. This continues the trend since 2007 which has seen poached rhinos dramatically increase from just 13.
Again, though, many other countries have no recorded exports and very few recorded deaths. One CITES report claimed that 80% of 2013’s large scale seizures of ivory occurred in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, indicating a high threat of poaching. And yet, all these countries report relatively low levels of ivory or horn exports.
Keeping accurate records is vital to knowing what exactly is happening on the ground. These result can either be duplicated due to problems in standardising record keeping, or in the huge task of monitoring the trade.
There are also frequent accusations against governments in Africa and Asia, the end result for a lot of these items, in aiding poachers or smugglers, or fixing records.
Its from these records that population estimates are made and action plans can be created. With skewed data, intentionally or unintentionally, the fight to preserve species is that much harder.

13 face ‘artefact theft plot’ trial

By PRESS ASSOCIATION

Thirteen men charged with plotting to steal rhinoceros horns and antique Chinese porcelain will face trial in April next year, a court has heard.

The defendants, aged between 25 and 67, were charged with conspiracy to steal last month after a nationwide inquiry into high-value museum and auction house thefts.

It is alleged that the men, from London, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Wolverhampton and Belfast, conspired with others at various locations to steal rhino horn and other artefacts worth £1,500,000 between September 2011 and August 2012.

A judge at Birmingham Crown Court today bailed 11 of the men until a plea hearing on March 20 next year.

One of the defendants, 44-year-old Danny O’Brien, of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen, Cottenham, near Cambridge, was remanded in custody.

He appeared in court alongside Michael Hegarty, 42, and John O’Brian, 25, both also of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen; Ashley Dad, 34, of Crowther Road, Wolverhampton; John O’Brien, 67, of Fifth Avenue, Wolverhampton; Richard O’Brien, 29, of Dale Farm, Oak Lane, Billericay, Essex; Paul Pammen, 48, of Alton Gardens, Southend-on-Sea; Richard Sheridan, 45, of Water Lane, Smithy Fen; Donald Wong, 54, of Clapham Common South Side, Lambeth, London; Patrick Clarke, 32, of Melbourne Road, Newham, London; Alan Clarke, 36, also of Melbourne Road, Newham; and Terence McNamara, 46, of Marquis Street, Belfast.

Another defendant, 26-year-old Robert Gilbert-Smith, of no fixed address, was not required to attend the hearing.

A trial in the case, lasting around eight weeks, is expected to start on April 27.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-2855995/13-face-artefact-theft-plot-trial.html#ixzz3KkONr0Nr

Sensitise public to win war against poaching (Tanzania)

BY DANIEL SEMBERYA, The Guardian
1st December 2014
Poaching of elephants is a serious issue in southern Tanzania as well as other districts where elephants are free to stray outside the  national park surveillance.
Findings show that the number of elephants in two wildlife sanctuaries in Tanzania indicated a sharp fall by more than 40 percent in just three years, as poachers increasingly killed the animals for their tusks.
Given the estimated total elephant population in Tanzania as being between 110,000 and 140,000; it was feared that with such a large drop in numbers over such a short period of time this may wipe out the country’s elephant population within 7 years.
Speaking to some selected media when handing over anti-poaching banners to the Julius Nyerere International Airport authority in Dar es Salaam last week, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s country Director Bell’Aube Houinato said in order for Tanzania to win the war against elephant poaching it needs to sensitise and raise awareness to the public.
Various reports cite Tanzania as the largest supplier of poached ivory and illegal wildlife trade.
“Evidence shows that in areas where people have been empowered and sensitised to appreciate and value what they have for the future generation, incidences of poaching have significantly dropped,” he explained.
He said poachers have been succeeding in their missions because they usually get cooperation from the local people around because of poverty among them.
He said the twenty banners they have given to JNIA have message written in Chinese language because China is the largest importer of poached ivory. Chinese prize ivory for decorative and medicinal value.
He said WWF has also established their office to China, which is the demand side to sensitise them on the impact of continuing involving in that illegal wildlife trade.
Meanwhile, WWF has trained JNIA’s Airport personnel from different units on how they can easily detect and identify products that are made of ivory.
“The trade is real and is happening in front of them.
“He said the training offered by WWF to Julius Nyerere International Airport staff is meant to empower them with skills that will enable them identify ivory products that have been passing in front of them unknowingly,” he noted.
“We are coming in as a civil society organisation and an international organisation to support airport staff through training, education, materials, raising awareness and ensuring they are able to curb the trade.”
WWF boss said that his organisation has started with JNIA, but they have plans in future to provide similar support to other airports and seaports in the country, because the borders are open,
Houinato said since Tanzania was a source, transit and consumer of ivory products, there should be effective measures at the ground so as to stop wildlife products on transit through its airports.
He said his organisation has been educating the local community on how to manage wildlife and eventually benefit out of them through the partnership with the government.
Speaking when receiving the banners offered by WWF, Julius Nyerere International Airport, (JNIA)’s Director Moses Malaki said the banners have been written in Chinese language to convey the message to the Chinese.
“We don’t oppress them, but it is a reality that the Chinese are the great dealers in this illegal ivory trade adding that of recent a Chinese national was apprehended after body check and found that he had rounded his whole body with beads,” he explained.
He said after the checking was intensified to detect and identify products made of ivory at the airport, many of these Chinese business people are now taking ivory products being turned into the form of beads and bracelets. And worse enough they make big holes in some carvings and insert some ivory made products.
“Previously checking at the airport had focused mainly at detecting weapons, knives and other sharp instruments that hijackers could easily use to hijack aircraft, as a result many business people used that loop hole to transit ivory products and drugs through the airport unnoticed,” he revealed.
He said this new crime of taking outside national trophy is the one that forced the airport authority to request WWF who knows and can easily identify all products made of wildlife products to come and train their personnel on how to detect ivory products that have been passing through the airport undetected.
“We are joining hands with the government to wage war against poaching, that why this training involves the police, airport staff, people dealing cargos, security people and other government machinery.”
These personnel are being trained to detect and identify things that are made of ivory and stop their transit through the airport.
“The objective of the training is to empower them with important knowledge that will enable them identify the various items that have been prohibited by the government.”
He said, “Previously we lacked this knowledge because when we detected foreign thing in one of the bags of passengers we had to wait for officials from wildlife section, and sometimes we had to delay the journey of that passenger. But with this training these trained officials will no longer wait for officials from the wildlife section to come and identify the unknown thing.”
Other key stakeholders in the sector are of the opinion that if concerted efforts are not taken by the government, elephant extinction in Tanzania would bring serious consequences in the tourism industry.
Presently, the estimated number of African elephants is about 0.5 million in the entire African range states.
Tanzania recently has lost more elephants to poaching than any other country. In 2013, it lost 10,000 – or 27 a day.
The country had 142,000 elephants in 2005; the agency predicted that, at the current death rate, the number would fall to about 55,000 in 2015. The elephant population at the Selous reserve alone fell from 70,000 in 2006 to just 13,000 in 2013.
Because of its scarcity, ivory also is an investment commodity.
Report show that Tanzania is the biggest source of illegal ivory seized around the world.
Elephants are slaughtered at the parks – Selous, a reserve in southern Tanzania, is one of the hardest hit.
The ivory is collected in villages and brought to the port in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital. It is loaded into freighters and shipped to destinations in Asia, including Hong Kong, Manila and Haiphong, Vietnam, before ending up in China, where it is cut, carved and sold as decoration or used in medicine.
None of this would be possible without the cooperation of Tanzanian authorities, said Shruti Suresh, an EIA wildlife campaigner.
“Seeing that there are several tonnes of ivory going through government posts, past government officials, it is clear that this corruption permeates through the highest levels of government,” Suresh said.
The insatiable demand for ivory, mostly from Asia, has had devastating consequences for elephant populations.
The environmental agency said Tanzania had lost two-thirds of its elephants in less than a decade, mostly to poachers.

Home-grown corruption is killing Africa’s rhinos and elephants

Andreas Wilson-Spath, Daily Maverick
November 28, 2014
While the crisis is complex, with root causes in chronic poverty, the absence of sustainable economic alternatives and a burgeoning demand for wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn, the wheels of this multi-billion dollar industry are liberally greased by bribery and corruption at all levels of government in several African countries.
Even a cursory summary of the epidemic’s lowlights, makes for depressing reading:
Tanzania
Fast becoming Africa’s chief source of illicit ivory, Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephants to poaching since 2006. Collusion between corrupt government officials and criminal syndicates has been identified as the root cause. Game rangers provide critical information to poachers, police officers supply guns, Tanzanian Revenue Authority officers release containers of ivory for export, and ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party functionaries offer high-level protection for trafficking operations.
In 2012 a list of individuals involved in elephant poaching, including prominent politicians, was handed to President Jakaya Kikwete. The following year, four CCM members of parliament, among them the party’s Secretary-General, Abdulrahman Kinana, were named for their involvement. None of the individuals implicated have been investigated further or arrested.
In 2013, Tanzania’s Auditor General criticised the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism’s Wildlife Division for the significant quantities of stockpiled elephant tusks that have gone missing while in its care and for under-reporting official poaching figures.
Earlier this year, police officers supplied poachers with weapons and access to the famed Selous Reserve, taking delivery of the ivory once five elephants had been killed.
A recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report notes that “the highest levels of the Tanzanian government” are ultimately responsible for the decimation of the country’s elephant population by failing to ensure that wildlife laws are enforced and by not achieving higher conviction rates when cases are brought to court.
Zambia
In 2013, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, dismissed Edwin Matokwani, the Director-General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) along with a number of his colleagues on the basis of malpractice and corruption involving commercial hunting companies.
In the same year, Defence Minister, Geoffrey Mwamba, was caught at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport with three large bags of elephant tusks. He was released without charge after claiming diplomatic immunity. The tusks were confiscated by ZAWA, but reappeared in the luggage of a Chinese diplomat at the same airport two days later. No further action was taken.
Mozambique
Poaching incidents reported to the Mozambican police and border guard are rarely followed up, cases are known to be squashed pending the payment of bribes, and offenders are released uncharged after a “deposit” of cash has been made.
A “web of official complicity” involving administrative, judicial and tax authorities in the northern provinces of Niassa and Cabo Delgado, including the Criminal Investigation Police, prosecuting attorneys and the courts, facilitates the industrial-scale elephant slaughter in the region. Government officials are known to have supplied poachers with high-calibre weapons, provided access to protected areas and smoothed the transportation of ivory and rhino horn out of the country.
In 2010, twelve elephants were killed in Mecula District using weapons supplied by police. The following year, eight Frontier Guard members were caught selling 350 kilograms of seized ivory. Instead of facing punishment, they were transferred to a different area.
Since 2012, several tonnes of ivory have disappeared from Mozambique’s official stockpile. High-level collusion by government officials is suspected.
The ruling Frelimo party stands accused of using the proceeds of ivory sales from more than 50 elephants poached in Niassa National Reserve with military equipment to fund its 2012 congress in Pemba.
In return for a bribe, airport customs officers in Maputo are known not to search luggage leaving the country, while customs and police officers provide similar services for containers shipped out of Pemba by Chinese timber companies. Cabo Delgado police commander Dora Manuel Majante has been accused of facilitating the passage of ivory and other contraband through Pemba’s airport and harbour.
A considerable proportion of the hundreds of poachers arrested or killed in the Kruger National Park have been members of the Mozambican army, police and border guard.
Uganda
Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was asked to assist in the apprehension of high-ranking government officials involved in illegal wildlife trafficking. No action was taken.
This month, more than a tonne of stockpiled ivory went missing from a Ugandan government vault. A local newspaper claims that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials in cahoots with traffickers are responsible for widespread ivory theft. Since then, six top UWA employees, including executive director Andrew Seguya, have been suspended pending the outcome of a police investigation.
Sudan
Militias allied to the Sudanese government are alleged to engage in elephant poaching operations as far afield as Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), trafficking ivory via the government in Khartoum and its military.
South Sudan
Ending in 2005, the two-decade-long war between south and north Sudan reduced the local elephant population from more than 80 000 to less than 5000. Since then, ongoing internal military conflict between the official government army and rebel forces threatens to eradicate it altogether as soldiers butcher elephants and other wildlife for meat and ivory.
DRC
The DRC’s army is believed by many observers to be the leading poacher in the vast eastern regions of the country. Until leaving in 2011, Uganda’s occupying People’s Defence Force was also linked to poaching.
South Africa
A number of key officials canvassed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2012 consider corruption connected to wildlife crime to be rife in South Africa, particularly with regards to issuing of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) permits. Formal action against corrupt officials remains the exception.
Zimbabwe
Elite members of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF are controlling increasingly large tracts of wildlife areas in the country and some are believed to be supplementing their foreign currency income through elephant and rhino poaching there.
In 2013, poachers allegedly linked to well-know senior ZANU-PF members, police officers and Zimbabwe Wildlife Management officials used cyanide to kill more than 100 elephants in Hwange National Park (HNP).
This year, the country’s last free-roaming elephant herd, which is supposedly protected from hunting and culling by a Presidential decree, has come under threat. Defying a government directive, a woman named Elisabeth Pasalk, whose brother is a hunting safari operator, has illegally claimed part of the herd’s home range, established a safari lodge and declared the area a ‘conservancy’ – a common euphemism for ‘hunting concession’. Conservationists believe that the takeover was supported by “political influence from high places”, that illicit hunting is part of Pasalk’s plans and that the Presidential Elephants are the intended target. The Zimbabwean government has done nothing about the situation.
Time to act
The evidence is overwhelming: African governments are complicit in the wholesale slaughter of the continent’s wildlife heritage.
A number of them have made public commitments to stem the poaching tide. Tanzania, for instance, is a signatory of the 2014 London Conference Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade which calls for zero tolerance on corruption and President Kikwete has recently spoken in favour of a moratorium on all ivory sales. Yet Kikwete’s government has shown little intention of turning these promises into reality and remains deeply implicated in the disaster.
What’s needed is the political will to take drastic action – to identify and investigate corrupt activities related to wildlife crime at every level of government, to remove corrupt individuals – many of them well known – from office and to prosecute them under the provisions of the criminal justice system.
The international community, including CITES, bears part of the responsibility. By not fighting corruption vigorously enough, not sanctioning governments known to be corrupt, not enforcing international law, not establishing a total ban on international and domestic trading in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife commodities, and not calling for the destruction of all government stockpiles of such goods, they too are complicit in the unfolding catastrophe.
In July, the EIA and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) called on the US government to implement trade sanctions against Mozambique for its complicity in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Southern Africa. President Obama’s government is yet to heed this urgent call.
Eradicating corruption will not end the disaster. But if we don’t stop the systemic corruption which is facilitating it, Africa’s poaching crisis will be terminal – an extermination order for rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and countless other irreplaceable species that will not survive the century in the face of unbridled human greed.

Trade in illegal animal products runs wild online (China)

WantChinaTimes.com
November 30, 2014
Online forums and social networking apps have become the primary platform in China for trade in items made with parts of endangered animals, including ivory and rhino horn, according to a report published by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) on Nov. 25.
During a six-week period between March and April, the IFAW recorded 9,482 online messages in 16 countries on the trade of endangered species and related products, which are banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Of these, 2,106 messages advertising the sale of 18,590 banned items, amounting to more than 16 million yuan (US$2.6 million), were recorded in China, the IFAW report said.
The IFAW’s Wang Juan pointed out that 79% of the messages in China advertised ivory and related products, while 8% of them referred to rhino horn.
Wang also told Shanghai-based news website the Paper that many of these correspondences used codes to avoid censorship, referring to ivory as “white plastics” and “X teeth” and to rhino horns as “black plastics” and “XJ,” which stands for Xi Jiao, rhino horn in Chinese.
Search engine Baidu’s Tieba forum is a major platform for the illegal trade of animal products, according to the IFAW, with many sellers believed to be the producers or wholesalers themselves.
The Paper even found photos of ivory and related products displayed in one of the forums of Baidu Tieba by owners planning to sell them.
The popular instant messaging and social networking app WeChat also offers a private and easy way for sellers to solicit buyers, since private groups can be set up online and only members can view the messages.
Wang urged auction websites and social networking service operators to enhance their censorship policies and warn users that trade of endangered animal products is illegal. He also suggested that they offer users a channel to report such activities.
In addition, the IFAW advised regulators to expand its monitoring mechanism of the Internet to instant messaging software such as QQ and WeChat.

 

Hong Kong snubs calls to join Elephant Protection Initiative

South China Morning Post
29 November, 2014
Hong Kong officials have rejected requests by activist groups for the city to join an African-led conservation initiative for elephants that aims to shut ivory markets and stamp out the trade.
The groups, including the African Wildlife Foundation, Wild Life Risk and WildAid, wrote to the government this month asking it to join the Elephant Protection Initiative.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest transit hubs and markets for contraband ivory, consistently ranking fifth for the quantity seized since the global trade in ivory was banned in 1989.
The Elephant Protection Initiative, started in February, requires partner states and organisations to work towards closing domestic ivory markets and to put all stockpiles beyond economic use. Five African elephant range states are part of the initiative – Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania.
In a written response to the activist groups, Richard Chan Ping-kwong, senior endangered species protection officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said there was no need to adjust conservation measures already in place.
“While [Hong Kong] would not be able to join the ‘Elephant Protection Initiative’ … we will continue our unwavering efforts to implement the CITES provisions and maintain our enforcement momentum,” Chan wrote.
He was referring to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, an inter-governmental deal to protect plants and animals threatened by international trade. China is a signatory.
Hong Kong has banned all external trade of ivory but has a commercial licensing system to regulate the domestic sale of legal ivory. Chan said the system – which requires all who own commercial stocks of ivory in the city to obtain licences – was effective.
WildAid campaigner Alex Hofford expressed disappointment at the government’s decision. The city should “stand in solidarity with the five African elephant range states”, given its status as a huge ivory demand and transit point, he said.
“If Hong Kong could only join hands with them as the first non-range state to join the [initiative] … It could send a very strong signal to the city’s ivory traders that enough is enough, and that they should stop trading illegal ivory immediately,” he said.
Hofford said he suspected the government turned down the invitation because Beijing had voted against joining the initiative at July’s CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.
Activists will protest against the government’s decision outside the China Goods Centre, a major ivory goods retailer, in North Point at 11am today.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat earlier this year asked the initiative’s secretariat to urge the Hong Kong government to join the programme. “Hong Kong now seems eligible to join the Elephant Protection Initiative as the city is currently undertaking the destruction of its stockpile and moving towards domestic legislation,” she had said.
At the beginning of the year the government began destroying 28 tonnes of its 29.6-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory – the rest will be kept for scientific and teaching purposes. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said 11.4 tonnes had been destroyed and the incineration would continue until the middle of next year.

In Kenya, Justice Catches Up With Elephant Poacher

Noah Sitati, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic
November 18, 2014
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An elephant poacher in Kenya is finally behind bars, thanks to a local magistrate and coordination between the wildlife authority and two conservation partners.
In late 2013, community game scouts undertaking an anti-poaching patrol near world-renowned Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya came across a fresh elephant carcass.
Not surprisingly, the elephant’s two tusks were missing. The scouts, guided by tracker dogs and accompanied by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, managed to track down the poacher, arrest him, and confiscate the two elephant tusks and python skin in his possession.
The pursuit and arrest of Kerumpoti Leyian wasn’t celebrated for long. After posting bail, Leyian failed to show up for his scheduled court appearance and all but disappeared. This was a demoralizing blow to the scouts who tracked down Leyian and recovered the tusks before they could be smuggled abroad, likely to China, where they’d be cleansed of their bloody origin, polished, and carved.
In spite of the setback, the scouts, who operate with a team of tracker dogs under the direction of Big Life Foundation with support from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), continued to monitor Leyian’s home. They also worked the extensive informant network they’d built up in the area for any tips as to his whereabouts.
Time passed, and it began to seem that here again another elephant poacher had evaded justice.
Then in July, the game scouts received intel that Leyian had returned to his village but was living with a relative. They scrambled and with help from KWS re-arrested Leyian. This time, he was not granted bail.
Law Enforcement Workshop Raises Awareness
In the same month that Leyian was being taken into police custody for a second time, KWS and AWF were hosting a workshop for 35 magistrates, revenue authority officials, immigration officials, prosecutors, and county administrators from districts adjacent to Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks.
The workshop aimed to sensitize attendees to the seriousness and complexity of the illegal wildlife trade, drawing particular attention to the illicit industry’s impact on Africa’s elephants and rhinos.
The workshop also focused on Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which six months before had come into force, empowering Kenya’s courts to deal harshly with convicted elephant and rhino poachers and traffickers.
No longer would the country’s wildlife criminals get a mere slap on the wrist for their offenses. Under the new law, anyone involved in the illegal wildlife trade could be hit with a maximum penalty of $233,000 or seven years in jail.
In January 2014, a Chinese man arrested in Nairobi and convicted of ivory smuggling became the first to feel the full brunt of the new law when he was ordered to pay $233,000 or serve seven years in jail.
Many participants in the workshop were not aware of the scale and devastation of the illegal wildlife trade, nor of the harsher penalties allowed under Kenya’s new wildlife law.
They highlighted the many challenges in bringing alleged poachers and traffickers to justice, from poor techniques in evidence collection to a lack of general knowledge among police and magistrates about the new wildlife act.
Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail.
Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail. Photograph by Noah Sitati/African Wildlife Foundation.
At the close of the workshop, Honorable Evans Mbicha, a magistrate from Kajiado District, joined his colleagues in vowing to do more to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
From now on, they gave assurance that they would deal sternly with poachers and traffickers convicted of their crimes. When Leyian appeared in Mbicha’s courtroom last month, he was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Power of Partnership
The year-long effort to bring one of Kenya’s elephant poachers to justice highlights two important things.
First, as demonstrated by Kenya’s new wildlife act, Tanzania’s new anti-poaching national strategy, and the U.S.’s national strategy to combat global wildlife trafficking, countries everywhere are prioritizing shutting down the illegal wildlife trade.
The sentencing of Leyian in Kenya comes amid news of the U.S. indictment of two South African brothers for their alleged operation of a rhino horn trafficking ring, suggesting that the law is finally closing in on poachers and kingpins alike.
Second, combating an illicit industry as pervasive and global as the illegal wildlife trade will require partnerships and coordinated efforts at the regional, national, and global level.
Conservation groups bring resources and different types of expertise that can help to extend and enhance the rule of law in many countries—and in the far-flung counties, districts, conservancies, group ranches and chiefdoms—in which they work.
Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya.
Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya. Photograph by Fiesta Warinwa/African Wildlife Foundation
The arrest of Leyian could not have happened without cooperation and coordination between Big Life Foundation game scouts and Kenya Wildlife Service staff.
And were it not for the July workshop facilitated by KWS and AWF, Leyian may have been charged with a petty offense and received a lighter sentence.
Leyian’s arrest and sentencing bring attention to some rare successes that often go unreported.
During the past couple of years, anti-poaching patrols have intensified and expanded in certain areas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and elephant poaching in those areas has declined as a result.
Wildlife authorities and game scouts on both sides of the border are coordinating their patrols and sharing information and in some cases resources to intercept and track down poachers and traffickers.
Recently, community scouts, magistrates, and others in the law enforcement establishment in Tanzania have requested similar training as that provided to their Kenyan counterparts in July.
Only by working together and joining in smart partnerships will we put the poachers, traffickers, and kingpins out of business.
For the elephants of the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem, they can rest a little easier now knowing that one less poacher is stalking them in the bush.
Noah Sitati is Kilimanjaro Landscape Manager for African Wildlife Foundation and Jeremy Goss is Conservation Project Manager for Big Life Foundation, both based in Kenya. AWF and Big Life are working together and with national wildlife authorities in the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem of southern Kenya, and across the border in Tanzania with another local NGO, Honeyguide Foundation, to counter wildlife poaching and trafficking.

China bemoans its people’s behavior in Africa—including undergarment ivory smuggling (Tanzania)

By Lily Kuo, Quartz
July 14, 2014
China is a major economic presence in Africa, injecting billions of dollars in trade and economic assistance to build out the continent’s infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean that Chinese companies are always on their best behavior. According to Lu Youqing, China’s ambassador to Tanzania, Chinese businesses are constantly causing problems as they fight over contracts and try to bribe local official.
“Our people just cannot shake their bad habits,” Lu said, in an interview (link in Chinese) with the Chinese paper Southern Metropolis News yesterday. “Tanzania hosts ambassadors from about 70 countries, but none of them needs to constantly worry like us about consular protection issues,” Lu added.
China’s growing investment and business ties with African countries has long been a subject of criticism among observers within and outside of Africa. Recently, Chinese leaders have also taken to admitting to problems while describing them as just “growing pains” in Sino-African relations. But rarely have officials been as frank as Lu, especially regarding one of China’s oldest African allies and top foreign investment destinations.
Lu complained about Chinese nationals attempting to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania, one of the world’s main ports for smuggling the banned animal product—hiding the illegal commodity under the hoods of their cars or even inside their undergarments. China is the world’s top destination (pdf, p. 30) for illicit ivory, according to the United Nations, and the thousands of Chinese nationals working in Tanzania have only exacerbated the illegal trade.
These problems don’t appear to have impacted ties too much. After Chinese firms plowed $2.5 billion into Tanzania last year, China has become Tanzania’s largest foreign investor, and Tanzania is currently pushing for ways to attract more Chinese tourists.

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy

Enews Park Forest

24 Jun 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2014. Ning Qiu, a resident of Frisco, Texas, and an appraiser of Asian art, pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth nearly $1 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The guilty plea was announced by Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, John Malcolm Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Qiu, 43, who has worked as an Asian antique appraiser for seven years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Don D. Bush in Plano, Texas, to a one count information charging him with conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act.

Qiu was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

According to documents filed in federal court, Qiu admitted to acting as one of the three antique dealers in the United States paid by Zhifei Li, the admitted “boss” of the conspiracy, to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to Li via Hong Kong. Li was sentenced on May 27, 2014, in federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, to serve 70 months in prison for his leadership role in the smuggling conspiracy. Li arranged financing, negotiated the price and paid for rhino horn and elephant ivory. He also gave instructions on how to smuggle the items out of the United States and obtained the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the smuggled goods and then smuggle them to him in mainland China.

“This is yet another step toward dismantling a sophisticated and global network of criminals whose greed is driving endangered animals to extinction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the illicit trade of the world’s wildlife and will work with our international partners to battle the poaching, corruption, and transnational crime that goes along with it.”

“I am pleased that the Eastern District of Texas could be a part of the ‘Operation Crash’ investigation as well as the guilty plea today, and I congratulate the investigative team for a job well done,” said U.S. Attorney Bales. “The criminal activity undertaken by the defendant in this case is a stark reminder that this matter is not about serving Asian cultural and medicinal practices; it’s about greed, organized crime and the depletion of a species that – without our focused efforts to fight this trade – may not be around for our children to see.”

“This guilty plea by another participant in one of the largest criminal trafficking rings we’ve ever investigated – as well as the unprecedented jail time given to the rings’ leader last month – serves notice to other poachers and smugglers that we are clamping down hard on those who break international wildlife laws,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “Working with the Department of Justice and other federal and international law enforcement agencies, we will continue to relentlessly pursue criminals whose greed and indifference to life are fueling the continued slaughter of rhinos and other vulnerable species in the wild.”

The rhinoceros is an herbivorous species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by more than 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

In pleading guilty, Qiu admitted that he worked at an auction house in Dallas as an appraiser of Asian artwork and antiques, specializing in carvings made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Qiu admitted to meeting Li in 2009 through his work at the auction house, and then entering into a conspiracy with Li whereby Qiu traveled throughout the U.S. to purchase raw and carved rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory for Li, often receiving specific instructions from Li on which items to buy and how much to pay. Upon purchasing the items, Li transferred funds directly into Qiu’s bank accounts in the U.S. and China. After acquiring the items for Li, Qiu arranged for them to be smuggled to a location in Hong Kong, which was provided by Li.

As part of his plea, Li admitted that he sold raw rhinoceros horns worth approximately $3 million – approximately $17,500 per pound – to factories in China where the horns are carved into fake antiques known as zuo jiu (which means “to make it as old” in Mandarin). In China, there is a centuries-old tradition of drinking from intricately carved “libation cups” made from rhinoceros horn. Owning or drinking from such a cup is believed by some to bring good health, and true antiques are highly prized by collectors. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including recently carved fake antiques. The leftover pieces from the carving process were sold for alleged “medicinal” purposes even though rhino horn is made of compressed keratin, the same material in human hair and nails and has no proven medical value.

Between 2009 and 2013, Qiu purchased and smuggled to Hong Kong at least five raw rhinoceros horns weighing at least 20 pounds. Qiu smuggled the raw rhino horns by first wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely describing them on customs and shipping documents, including by labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts.

As part of the plea agreement, having considered Qiu’s cooperation and assistance in securing a conviction for Li, the government agrees to recommend to the sentencing judge that Qiu serve a 25-month prison sentence and pay a $150,000 fine. Sentencing will be before District Court Judge Richard Schell on a date to be determined by the court.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Noble of the Eastern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Article link:

http://www.enewspf.com/latest-news/law-and-order/federal-and-international/53938-texas-man-pleads-guilty-to-rhino-and-ivory-smuggling-conspiracy.html