Category Archives: Rhino poaching

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

Chinese man sentenced in New Jersey to nearly 6 years for smuggling rhino horns, ivory

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS  

May 27, 2014


NEWARK, New Jersey — A Chinese man who helped run an international smuggling ring that specialized in rhinoceros horns has been sentenced in New Jersey to nearly six years in federal prison.

Zhifei Li (zhee-feh lee) was given a sentence of five years and 10 months on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Newark.

The 30-year-old resident of Shandong, China, pleaded guilty last December to 11 counts, including smuggling and illegal wildlife trafficking.

The U.S. attorney’s office says Li paid three antiques dealers in the United States to help him smuggle the items to China. Thirty smuggled rhino horns plus other objects made from the horns and from elephant ivory were worth about $4.5 million.

All species of the rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law.

UN head to attend anti-poaching meeting in Nairobi

By BEATRICE OBWOCHA

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be in Kenya in June to attend a high level environmental meeting whose main agenda will be to address the rise in cases of poaching.

The first UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) will bring together high level representatives from 160 UN member states and will see over 1,200 participants from government, business and civil society converge in Nairobi for five days.

Ministers of Environment and Foreign Affairs, Chief Executive Officers of some international organisations and judges are expected to attend the conference that will take place in Nairobi from June 23 to 27, 2014.

A statement from UNEP stated that “ Ministers and international leaders will gather to address two key sustainable development and environment topics of current international concern, namely: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including sustainable consumption and production and the illegal trade in wildlife to address the escalation in poaching and surge in related environmental crime.”

According to the conveners, the environmental rule of law will also be discussed by leading representatives of the international judicial community, including Chief Justices, Attorney Generals and Judges.

The role of Finance in the Green will also be addressed in the meeting.

UNEA is the newly constituted UN platform for decision making on environment that is tasked to chart a new course in the way the international community addresses environmental sustainability challenges.

As the new governing body of UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as well as the world’s Environment Assembly, UNEA has the mandate to make strategic decisions and provide political guidance in the work of UNEP and promote a strong science-policy interface.

The Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP Mr Achim Steiner said the broad range of actors from the world of economy, finance, social sciences, legislation and the judiciary will participate in the conference to help shape the global environment agenda.

“In this new forum, UNEP and its partners will be able to provide governments and other policymakers with the science, policy options and platform, for international cooperation to more effectively address the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

“The convening of the first UNEA session in Nairobi – home of UNEP and the often referred to environment capital of the world – represents a coming-of-age for the global environment community,” he said.

Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Martin Kimani said Kenya is ready to host such a high profile meeting.

“Our country has made immense strides in building a Green Economy – observe our cutting edge geothermal developments and the high percentage of our GDP from nature tourism.

“The success of UNEA and UNEP are high in our priorities. Kenya is taking every measure to ensure the success of this landmark event. We are inviting delegates from around the world to actively participate in this historic moment and make their contributions to the assembly in a safe and friendly city that is rolling out every welcome to them,” he said.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Ban-Ki-moon-to-attend-anti-poaching-meeting-in-Nairobi/-/1056/2330310/-/lrmxup/-/index.html

Huge Haul of Smuggled Ivory Came From Kenya (Cambodia)

By Khy Sovuthy and Simon Henderson, The Cambodia Daily

May 23, 2014
The three-ton haul of illegal elephant ivory seized by port officials on May 9 originated in Kenya and was then shipped through Malaysia to Cambodia in two freight containers, the chief of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port’s customs and excise department said Thursday.

The General Department of Customs held a press conference Thursday to provide the first update since May 12 on the investigation into Cambodia’s biggest ever seizure of illegal ivory. But customs officials did not mention whether the investigation had identified any person or persons responsible for the smuggled ivory, and declined to respond to questions on the identity of the smugglers.

“After investigating this case we have discovered that the 3,008 kg of ivory was transported from Kenya in Africa,” Kin Ly, the head of the Sihanoukville port’s customs and excise department, told reporters.

He explained that port authorities were alerted about the containers by the regional intelligence liaison office of the Customs Enforcement Network, a global intelligence service monitoring shipping cargo.

The containers were supposed to be carrying beans from Malaysia, but a scan after their arrival at Sihanoukville revealed a cargo of more than 500 elephant tusks.

Most of the elephant tusks smuggled through Southeast Asia are bound for Vietnam and China, which have lucrative black markets for ivory, and Bun Chiv, deputy chief of the port’s customs office, said Thursday that the final destination of the Kenyan ivory was almost certainly not Cambodia.

“Cambodia was not the destination country for this ivory,” he said.

Neither he nor Mr. Ly would answer questions regarding the shipping company that consigned the containers, Olair Worldwide Logistics, which has two office listings in Phnom Penh and one in Sihanoukville.

The company is registered with the Ministry of Commerce as having three shareholders: Seang Sokhorn, Eang Chantha and Huy Soly.

Neither the company nor the shareholders could be reached Thursday.

Hong Kong Retailers Say They’ll Stop Selling Ivory

Chester Yung, Wall Street Journal China

May 14, 2014

The window for buying ivory in Hong Kong is narrowing.

Three local sellers of everything from dinner wear to curios said on Wednesday that ivory was no longer welcome on their shelves. Wing On Department Store said it would stop selling ivory products in July, while Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium said it stopped selling ivory on May 7 and Chinese Arts & Crafts ( HK) Ltd. said it stopped in March.

The notices — given in letters from the three companies released on Wednesday by conservation groups — came just a day before Hong Kong plans to burn a 30-tonstockpile of seized elephant ivory.  Their moves “send a clear message that the consumption of ivory is rapidly becoming taboo in Hong Kong society,” said Alex Hofford, director of Hong Kong for Elephants, a local lobby group.

Representatives of the three companies attended a press conference on Wednesday to announce their new stance but left before taking questions. A call to Wing On wasn’t immediately returned. A Yue Hwa representative declined to comment further. A spokesman of Chinese Arts & Crafts said the ivory the company once sold was legal.

Nearly 100 elephants are killed every day for ivory trinkets — bracelets, statuettes and other decorative items sold illegally around the world, according to Hong Kong for Elephants. Wildlife experts estimate the African elephant population stand around 420,000 to 650,000 and could be wiped out in 10 to 15 years if nothing is done to ease the problem.

The groups argue that the slaughter of African elephants continues largely to meet the rising demand for tusks from newly affluent Chinese consumers.  The price of ivory in China was 15,000 yuan ($2,478) per kilogram in 2011, more than triple its price in 2006, according to data from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Wildlife conservation groups Wednesday urged the Hong Kong government turn its post-burning attention to the city’s 117.1 metric ton legal stockpile of ivory still in circulation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong for Elephants also called upon the city’ s government to legislate a permanent ban on ivory sales.

The Hong Kong government’s burning plans followed China’s, which in Januarypulverized six tons of illegal tusks.

In a recent official visit in Africa, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also vowed to combat poaching and ivory smuggling.

“Changes are afoot for the better for elephants. This is an extraordinary encouraging moment for the global effort to reduce ivory demand in Asia,”  said Iris Ho of Humane Society International, an organization that works on animal protection.

Kenya: ‘Hands Off Our Elephants’ Campaigner Kahumbu Feted

CapitalFM
9 May 2014

London, United Kingdom — WildlifeDirect’s Paula Kahumbu has been awarded the prestigious international prize in honour of her work to inspire Kenyans to put an end to the country’s elephant poaching crisis.

While Shivani Bhalla, the founder of Ewaso Lions was recognized for her Warrior Watch campaign which has been working to improve coexistence between people and lions in northern Kenya.

Shivani founded Ewaso Lions in 2007 to promote co-existence between carnivores and the local mostly nomadic population.

She has also worked for the Kenya Wildlife Service and Save the Elephants where she promoted environmental education programs among schools and students in Samburu.

Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £35,000 to be spent over one year.

Kahumbu is Executive Director of WildlifeDirect which launched “Hands off Our Elephants” in 2013, a campaign to tackle poaching, and the trafficking of ivory, and with the ultimate ambition of closing down the international ivory trade.

Elephants make a major contribution to Kenya’s economy through tourism which accounting for about 12% of Kenya’s GDP and employs over 300,000 people.

More ivory is trafficked through Kenya than any other country in Africa and the Hands off Our Elephants campaign, with the support of its patron, Kenya’s first lady, Margaret Kenyatta, is informing and mobilising Kenyans to take action to beat this iniquitous trade.

Key to Paula’s approach is engaging directly with government authorities and prosecutors to adopt new legislation that ensures those found guilty of poaching and other wildlife crimes are brought to justice and receive much stricter sentences.

Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Whitley Award winners are successful because they don’t just watch and measure – they act!

Edward Whitley, Founder of The Whitley Fund for Nature, says: “We recognise that wildlife and habitat conservation in developing countries cannot be successful without the involvement of people at the grassroots level.

Every year, I am delighted to meet the winners of the Whitley Awards.

The Whitley Awards honoured six other conservationists from developing countries around the world.

Article at the following link:

I-Team links Chicago ivory smuggling to terrorists

abc7Chicago
May 06, 2014

May 6, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — The I-Team investigates a global smuggling network linked to Chicago that is killing animals in the name of luxury art and authorities say is financing terrorism.

It’s a multi-billion-dollar problem, agony and ivory. The smuggling of ivory through major shipping hubs like Chicago props up international terrorism and organized crime groups.

The I-Team uncovers how some sellers are getting around new federal rules to curb the ivory trade and doing it in plain sight.

This is the Chicago battlefield in a war on illicit ivory smuggling, a war that starts more than 6,000 miles away on the African Savannah, with poachers taking down elephants for their tusks.
At a warehouse near O’Hare International Airport, United States Fish and Wildlife officers train an ivory-sniffing dog to hunt for elephant ivory, much of it on the way to the Far East.

Amanda Dickson/ Wildlife Inspector “The economy is growing in those countries and the demand for it has really skyrocketed,” said wildlife inspector Amanda Dickson. “People have money, it’s a status symbol, it’s considered good luck.”

The problem is so extensive that last fall federal officials organized a massive ivory crush at the federal illegal ivory stockpile in Colorado.

They hope that by destroying all of these statues and trinkets, and imposing tough new rules that make it extremely difficult to legally sell ivory, they can cause the public’s appetite to plummet and dropping demand would mean fewer elephants slaughtered.

But for years, federal laws have lacked real enforcement, allowing a shadowy global smuggling network to flourish.

“It’s much easier for a criminal to make money off of it, and then if they get caught, it’s just a slap on the wrist,” Dickson said.

At a recent Chicago inspection, one package stood out to wildlife law enforcement, marked “carved figure.”

“This is a piece of ivory that’s been carved to look like a skull,” said Dickson.

This bizarre skull is from an actual elephant tusk sold on eBay as “faux ivory.”

“Lot of times they do call it faux ivory but they know the difference because they’re paying much more for it than if it was a piece of plastic,” Dickson said.

Searching “faux ivory” on eBay turns up lots of high-priced items: Statues, decorative objects, sometimes offered for thousands of dollars.

Experts tell the I-Team the play on words is often a ploy, disguising real ivory to avoid the new rules against selling it.

“Faux ivory, fake ivories, basically have no value,” said Farhad Radfar, MIR Appraisers. “Everyone can see, they sell them for thousands of dollars and people who buy them, they know they’re real ivories. They’re getting around the law, lying right in the daylight.”

They aren’t just poachers. Worldwide crime funding can be traced back to profits from illegal ivory sales. A recent human rights report even linked ivory smuggling to North Korea’s brutal regime, as one of the rogue state’s main profit centers.

“It’s facilitating all sorts of illicit activities,” said Tom Cardamore, Global Financial Integrity. “Terrorist elements and organized crime use the proceeds of these activities to fund their own illegal activities.”

So, Chicago-based federal agents police the problem, box by box.

“If you have too many folks out there hunting these animals, killing these animals, they’re not able to reproduce quickly enough, so then what we have then is the extinction of the species,” said wildlife inspector Ryan Colburn.

“It’s not the whole puzzle but it’s one small piece and we’re hoping to make some impact,” Dickson said.

The Obama administration’s new rules against ivory trafficking are so strict, some Chicago auction houses say they are no longer able to sell legitimate antiques. Some of the nation’s top art and antique dealers are considering legal action against the government to overturn the ivory ban.

Illegally selling ivory products, three people have been arrested by Police of Weihai, Shandong (China)

Weihai News Network
May 2014
April 20, Weihai News Network (Reporter Zhao Shuyi Correspondent Li Zhen) Sun bought ivory products from Lee and Qian who are businessmen from South China for profit. These three suspects have been arrested by Weihai City police. Prosecution has begun on 17th.
In late September last year, the Municipal Forest Public Security Bureau received reports of ivory products trafficking. Police immediately monitored Sun who was suspected of ivory products trafficking. Last October 15th, Sun was arrested in a foot massage salon in Gaoqu. in Sun’ s home, investigators seized ivory bracelets, ivory seals, ivory armlets and other products which later been identified as ivory by the wild animals plants criminal evidence identification Center of the State Forestry Administration Forest Public Security Bureau. In the afternoon of the same day, the other two suspects Lee and Qian were caught red-handed while they went to Sun’ s home to sell Sun ivory.
During interrogation, Sun admitted that he was driven by huge profits. Sun heard that ivory products can be sold for a great fortune, so Sun went to multiple areas to buy ivory products. During that time, Sun got in touch with Southern businessmen Lee and Qian. In last October, Lee and Qian brought a batch of ivory products and drove northward all the way to Weihai city of Shandong Province to bargain with Sun, only to get themselves arrested. According to statistics, currently seized ivory products that involved in the case is worth nearly ¥ 500,000.
April 17, an indictment charged defendant Sun with the crime of illegal acquisition of national rare and endangered wildlife products, defendant Lee with the crime of illegal sale of national rare and endangered wildlife products and defendant Qian with the crime of illegal transportation national rare and endangered wildlife products by Gaoqu People’s Procuratorate (in Shandong).

The war on poaching cannot be won in the field unless we take on high-level corruption

By Paula Kahumbu

Corruption is what drives the vicious circle linking poverty to organised crime and is the root cause of the current poaching crisis

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard over an ivory haul seized overnight as it transited through Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard over an ivory haul seized as it transited through Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. The commitment and integrity of wildlife agencies is key in the war against the poachers. Photograph: TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

In order to win the war against poaching we have to understand its causes. There are two main explanations for why poaching is endemic and so hard to eradicate in developing countries.

The first explanation is that poaching is driven by organised crime. A recent, widely publicised report by Born Free: “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarisation and Professionalisation of Poaching in Africa”, details the web of corruption linking crime cartels to government officials, army officers and businessmen.

In buying the services of the individuals they need to oil the wheels of their criminal enterprises, the cartels achieve a degree of high level cooperation between the public and private sectors that development agencies can only dream of.

Evidence of the inner workings of crime syndicates is, naturally, hard to come by. But there is plenty of evidence of the involvement of corrupt officials and police officers in the illegal wildlife trade, such as the recent arrest of two police officers in Kenya.

In its conclusions, the Born Free report in calls for anti-poaching investment to be strategically re-focused on the traffickers and cartels.

The second explanation is that poaching is driven by poverty. An earlierIUCN report on elephant poaching provides statistics showing that child mortality and other povert indicators are correlated to poaching intensity. The general conclusion is that poverty drives people to poach.

In this scenario poachers are victims of poverty, but they are also the actual killers of elephants and rhinos, and this is where most governments currently have to invest anti-poaching efforts. But in the longer-term the only sustainable solution is development, to alleviate the poverty that is the cause of poaching.

There is no reason to believe that these two very different explanations contradict one another. Both are almost certainly true. The trade in ivory and other illegal wildlife products is complex, diverse and constantly evolving, like any other trade. Like any other business enterprise, the crime cartels are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to maximize their profits.

But: how are these two causes of poaching interconnected? In weighing up the evidence, we should bear the following points in mind:

(1) People are not criminals because they are poor. Africa is full of inspiring stories of community-based conservation and development initiatives: stories of poor people trying to make an honest living, using natural resources sustainably.

(2) You don’t have to be poor to be a criminal. Rhino horns are regularly the target of thieves in the UK as well – here also there is evidence that the crime cartels are in the background, masterminding operations.

(3) Any high-value, lightweight product is going to attract the attention of organised crime cartels, be it drugs, diamonds or illegal wildlife products.

Note that it is value of the product that matters, not whether or not it is intrinsically “illegal”. Cartels deal in prescription drugs as well as banned substances, in diamonds as well as rhino horns. This puts paid to arguments that legalising trade in rhino horn is the way to stop poaching.

Let’s look again at the conclusions of the IUCN report which shows a correlation between poaching and poverty. One of the first things that students of statistics are taught is that a correlation does not provide proof of causality. Poverty could be the cause of poaching, but the causal process could go in the other direction: could poaching could be the cause of poverty?

This might sound far-fetched, but poaching does contribute to poverty, by impoverishing communities of their natural capital which could be sustainably harvested or used through tourism for the benefit of wider society.

Poaching also introduces corruption and criminality into communities, leading to the incarceration of young working aged men. The insecurity brought by armed poachers threatens all investments – poachers are known to raid homes and markets for food, steal vehicles and even rape women.

The IUCN report finds that while areas where poverty is worst also see higher levels of elephant poaching, poor villagers do not benefit from the illicit ivory trade. Thus incomes for a few poachers are matched by threats to legitimate sources of income, driving the community greater into poverty and potentially into ever greater dependence on the poaching cartels.

I would argue that corruption what drives this vicious circle and is the root cause of the current poaching crisis. Corruption is the catalyst that binds poverty to organised crime and activates their full destructive potential.

Ingrained corruption in societies gives the cartels freedom of movement to exploit poor people and evade capture. Where corruption is already endemic, it is easy for criminals to further corrupt the system, taking advantage of existing networks developed, for example, for the drugs trade or human trafficking. Where there is no corruption, the cartels will take steps to introduce it.

Would a study of the statistics reveal a correlation between corruption and poaching in the MIKE countries? My guess is it would. Certainly there is evidence to support this hypothesis from one country, Botwana.

This country has long had a policy of zero tolerance for corruption. In the latest report issued by Transparency International, Botwana stands out on the map of Africa as having the continent’s lowest levels of corruption– lower than some European countries.

Botwana also has the largest population of elephants in Africa as well as the best record on poaching in Africa. In a desperate measure, Rhinos are now being moved to Botwana to put them beyond the reach of rampant poaching in neighbouring South Africa, where corruption is endemic at all levels of society.

Bungee-launch of a Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft in a demonstration in Namibia.

Drones are being introduced to protect elephants and rhinoceroses in African national parks. The photograph shows the bungee-launch of a Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft in a demonstration in Namibia. Photograph: © Falcon UAV launch – Helge Denker/WWF-Namibia

Governments and private donors, including the millionaire Howard Buffet, are rushing to Africa to support anti-poaching efforts with drones, helicopters, and more boots on the ground. This is a welcome sign of growing global awareness of the urgency of the situation. Wildlife protection agencies need state-of-the-art technology such as night vision equipment to combat the poachers, who are already using it.

But technology and manpower alone will not solve the problem so long as corruption is not dealt with. Anti-poaching investments in a country with good governance, like Botswana, will contribute towards effective surveillance and protection. But in corrupt countries, there is a real danger the money will end up funding the poachers instead.

In Kenya, there is chilling evidence of how sophisticated surveillance equipment like GPS locators, intended to protected rhinos, is being used by poachers, with the help of corrupt or frightened officials, to locate and target their prey.

The recent announcement of a substantial pay rise for Kenyan rangers protecting elephant and rhino sanctuaries is hugely welcome, a sign that the message that morale and commitment are as important as equipment is beginning to get through.

The corruption highlighted by Born Free Report is an insidious and largely unspoken and filthy threat, not only to African wildlife, but to society as a whole. But this threat is also an opportunity for environmentalists to achieve their long-held dream of mainstreaming the environment in national policy agendas.

To do so, local environmental activists must also become part of the mainstream, by uniting with other social forces in the broader struggle against corruption, and for a fair and just society where humans and animals alike are free to go about their legitimate business.

This article can be found in this link: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/may/05/war-on-poaching-cannot-be-won-unless-we-take-on-corruption