Author: Southern Weekend reporter Yuan Duanduan
From: Kenya, Mozambique, November 15, 2013, 09:48:26
Published in: Southern Weekend
On November 2013, Xiamen Customs uncovered the two biggest ivory smuggling cases this year, a total of 11.88 tons. China has become the largest illegal ivory consumer market in the world, which has a direct impact on poaching activities in Africa.（WCS|Darren Potgieter |photo）
● Ivory smuggling
● African Elephant
● Terrorist organizations
● Chinese buyers
● Animal protection
China has become the largest illegal ivory consumer market in the world, but 2 /3 of the Chinese people do not know ivory is obtained through killing the elephant.
In 1979, there were 1.3 million African elephants, but now less than four hundred thousand remain. If this trend continues, African elephants will become extinct in the next ten to twenty years.
The ivory trade has become a source of capital for African terrorist groups, forming a tight secretive network of poachers, small and big middlemen.
In Zhaku Ma National Park of Chad, a young elephant is hunted, and the animal’s face and trunk are cut off. A ranger is trying to pull the ivory out from the corpses, in order to prevent the escaped hunter from coming back to collect it.
The trunk was cut off, half of its face was severed, and ivory was also sawn off.
It is the first time that Keith Berg, an animal protector, has seen the tragedy of a killed elephant. In 2012, this scenario took place once every three days in the African grasslands. In the same year, 3000 elephants in the protected areas were hunted.
Just as 2/3 of the Chinese people do not know ivory is obtained through killing the elephant, it is also difficult for the public to know about these killings on the grasslands of Africa. However, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other institutions, China has become the largest illegal ivory consumer market in the world.
In recent news on November 5, 2013, Xiamen Customs announced the largest ivory smuggling cases uncovered in recent years, two cases of which ivory added up to 11.88 tons, worth 603 million yuan. If it hadn’t been seized, the ivory from Africa would have infiltrated China ‘s secretive “black market”, to be eventually sold into private collections.
That’s not an exception. Some terrorist organizations also target ivory, and they obtain activity funds through illegal sales of ivory.
In October 2013, starting from the beginning of China’s ivory smuggling cases, a reporter from Southern Weekend spent eleven days visiting national protection areas in Africa, (Kenya and Mozambique), in order to find out more about the existence of African elephants.
First shot, and then knifed
In June 2013, in the Niassa Reserve, Northern Mozambique, Africa.
“Bang! Bang!” suddenly sounded the gunfire, patrol officers rushed headlong into the jungle like arrows, and Darren Potgieter, a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) doctor, took off in the helicopter to start the search.
“I’ve seen the corpses of countless elephants, but that time I was greatly shocked and cannot forget the image. “An adult male elephant curled up on the ground, with half of its face and trunk cut away and pushed, aside. The ivory was gone. The elephant with no face or trunk was still struggling, its limbs swinging constantly.
To save bullets, hunters shot down an elephant first, then brutally cut away the face with machetes, and then take away the ivory. Everyone just stood there until this monster stopped twitching after such an intense struggle.
And most often, massive killing leads to the destruction of entire elephant family.
64 elephants were killed by crazy poachers within 50 minutes. Their corpses were lying on a small half football field of forest land, possibly due to their excessive number, or because the poachers were afraid of being discovered, and only half of the ivory was taken away. You could clearly make out the traces of a small elephant, too frightened to struggle.
Poachers even recorded such cases. Darren found a tape recorder on the scene: the intense gunshots were mixed with continuous howling, desolate wailing sounds like countless steamships loud enough to shatter the sky.
It is said that this is a habit of local hunters, who go to remote areas for hunting, and the recordings they bring back are used for showing off with their tribes.
“This is so crazy! There is no reason to kill them for ivory.”Darren’s brow is furrowed, lost in his memories.
In a secret room in the jungle, the Southern Weekend reporter saw all the ivory collected from 1999, so much of it that it was difficult to say how much.. A patrol officer randomly picked up one tusk, labeled with the time, location, weight and length. It is their last signs of life. In front of us, Niassa Reserve is tranquil and serene, covering over 40,000 square kilometers of jungle. It is the largest protection area in Mozambique, and is well known for groups of elephants that are large in size and havelong, narrow tusks. But such a poetic habitat is a disaster for elephants——in 2012, 3,000 elephants in protection areas were brutally killed.
The international ivory trade has been banned for 24 years, while elephant poaching has intensified. In 1979, there were 1.3 million elephants in Africa, 470,000 in 2007, and less than 400,000 currently. The experts unanimously agree: “If the trend continues, the African elephant will be extinct in 10 to 20 years.”
In the Zhaku Ma National Park, Chad, officers patrol on horseback. Although they are trained, any mistakes could result in injury or even death. In 2012, in the presence of patrol rangers, dozens of patrol rangers were shot to death in Africa.
Chinese buyers behind killings
It is an open secret that the Chinese people are the biggest buyers of ivory. According to “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” (CITES) report, the Chinese market is the most important factor for the dramatic increase in the trade of illegal ivory. There is no doubt that the ivory customers in Africa are divided into two types: individual customers, and organized smugglers.
Thousands of Chinese workers in Africa are engaged in building roads, setting up timber mills, and mining for oil and minerals. In 2009, Chinese came to Tanzania, and built a road bridge between Tanzania and Mozambique. To the surprise of local residents, the Chinese people built two huge ivory sculptures at both ends of the bridge. The bridge, intended to promote the economic development of African countries, has become the channel for poachers to engage in cross-border ivory poaching and transportation. This probably means that a new round of ivory trade has begun. Keith feels very helpless.
Before returning home, many Chinese people in Africa hide ivory products in their luggage, and they also teach each other “Tips” for preventing the products from being checked by customs. According to Trade Record Analysis of Flora & Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC), a daily average of two Chinese people are arrested for carrying ivory. A poll conducted in IFAW also shows that 70% of Chinese people do not know that elephants need to be killed in order to obtain ivory.
In some African countries, the Chinese tourists who are involved in contraband can easily cross the border by privately bribing Customs officers with just a little money.
One officer from the General Administration of Customs said that compared to African countries, “those who carry illegal ivory, according to China’s law, are considered smugglers. We also detained some people who only carried a few grams of the ivory.” He believes that the main reason for more and more rampant smuggling lies in the irrational consumption of Chinese people, who think that the law does not apply to the masses.
According to a Agence France-Presse report, in August 2013 a Chinese woman was arrested at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya. In the past, if smugglers simply paid a small fine, they would not be imprisoned. But this time, more than thirty animal protection organizations jointly protested and this Chinese woman ultimately was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison, causing a sensation. “This sentence is the first case, which indicates the awakening of the judicial authorities” a Kenya wildlife agency spokesman said.
In addition to individual smugglers, what the most severe is the organized nature and large scale of smuggling.
Pemba, in Mozambique, is famous for exporting timber. It is also one of the areas where the smuggling is the most serious. Here there are a large number of Chinese timber merchants. According to an Environmental Investigation Agency report in 2012, there are a large number of Chinese timber companies that have engaged in illegal exploitation and smuggling.
One official, from the Mozambique Tourism Bureau, told the Southern Weekend reporter that some timber dealers, by virtue of well-established timber transport routes, transport ivory hidden in large vans to other countries. “Some government officials are also involved, but I can’t comment on that. ”
The Xiamen ivory case is an example. Xiamen Customs revealed that since April 2012, people like Zhang and Yao had purchased large quantities of wood and had it stacked and secured, then dug out a space one meter in width and two meters in length in the middle of wood piles for storing and smuggling over seven tons of ivory. In order to confuse Customs, they transported these batches of “wood” to Malaysia, and then to China.
The consequences are obvious. In 2012, a total of 34.7 tons of illegal ivory were seized and more than 30,000 elephants were killed. CITES law enforcement officials claimed that there were an increasing number of ivory interceptions, that the far more organized and sophisticated criminal gangs have already infiltrated the ivory black market.
In Zhaku Ma National Park of Chad, killing elephants leads to the destruction of the elephant family.
The ivory trade has become the source of funding for terrorist organizations.
Like blood diamonds in Sierra Leone and minerals in Congo, ivory has become a war over resources.
On September 21, 2013, the Somali Shabaab terrorist organization attacked a shopping center in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, killing 72 people, including a Chinese citizen. Incredibly, most of the funding for this terrorist organization comes from the ivory trade.
“Hi, I have some goods to trade, about 40 kg.” In a restaurant in Nairobi, a Somali youth heard this message, subsequently he telephoned a member of the Somali Youth Party, and his partner wrote down the number and made an agreement for a transaction.
This is how Andrea Crosta, founder of Elephant Action Coalition, and Nir Kalron, founder of Maisha Security Consulting Co., Ltd. describe the terrorist organizations participating in ivory trade. They conducted an 18-month undercover investigation and confirmed that “40 percent of Somali Youth Party funds come from the ivory trade.”
“We have secretly interviewed dozens of people.” Andrea said. A large, sophisticated trade network composed of a hunter, a small broker and a large broker has been revealed.
The transaction starts with a call: the “big broker” at one end of the telephone call usually comes from the traders in Asia, Mexico or other parts of the world. The “big broker” at the other end is a Somali living in Kenya. The two sides confirmed the price and trade tonnage, then the latter contacts the “small broker”, who continues to contact the hunter, or handles it himself.
Somali Youth Party acts as a reseller, so as to obtain funding of terrorist activities. In some Asian markets, the price of ivory has skyrocketed to $1,500 / kg.
According to information discovered by Andre and Neil, the delivery is carried out on a monthly basis, and the purchase price for terrorist organization is approximately $50/kg. The ivory was shipped to Somali ports, then transferred to a big boat, towards the east via Mexico. They also learned that the huge ship came from China, Arabia, Iran and other countries.
Monthly, the Somali Youth Party sells 1-3 tons of ivory, calculated on the basis of $200/kg as the sale price, with an income reaches 200,000 -600,000 dollars. “Now the trading is even more crazy, and we are still doing more investigations. “Andrea said.
“Terrorist organizations and the ivory trade have shocked us, and the whole world can’t afford to ignore its consequences. ” Neil said worriedly.
Gray “Umbrella” Allocated by China
Anti-poaching is not easy. For enforcement officers in the protected areas, the boundless jungles are dangerous.
“Because there are fewer people, tracking poachers is impossible.” Justino Carlos Davane, an enforcement official in the protection area of Niassa. He is in charge of nearly 70 rangers.
“This is a war,” Justino said. Sometimes, from a few hundred meters away, they can see hunters holding AK47s and dragging the ivory along the river to escape. In 2012, dozens of patrol rangers were shot to death by poaching gangs in Africa.
During the interview with Southern Weekend reporter, three gunshots rang out from an areas 10 meters from the river. “It may be another elephant killed. ” Hearing the shots, Keith rushed out of the door.
In addition to rampant poachers, the weak governance and fragile legal system are exacerbating the crisis.
In Mozambique, as well as many other countries in Africa, protected areas are jointly owned by the state and non-government entities, and the government accounts for 51% or more, but pays no money. Therefore, the protection areas are mostly maintained by individuals or international environmental organizations based in the local areas.
“The (regulatory issues) are very serious.” What surprises the manager in charge of protection areas in Mozambique is that everything is inefficient, even some of their necessities in camps, only because the government departments have not signed the approval documents.
The legal system is more fragile. Mozambique is extremely “tolerant” of the poachers, for poaching is not a crime, and rangers have no right to shoot them.
Another experienced elephant protector has a deeper understanding. He has spent twenty years in a national park in Mozambique. Initially, he would send the poachers to the police station, but as long as they paid some money, the police would let them go. “Now, I can’t do that, so instead I will destroy their tents, hoping that they no longer come.”
On the other hand, the international community also pointed to China’s regulatory loopholes. According to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) data of international ivory monitoring organization, since 2009, large seizures of ivory in Asia have more than doubled. Director Tom Milliken concluded that smuggling is “headquartered in Africa and managed by Asian criminal groups that have a strong ability to adapt to law enforcement interventions and constantly changing trade routes.
Still, others also believe that this was the negative consequence of lifting of the ban on the ivory trade in 2009. In 2004, China applied to CITES for the liberalization of the ivory trade. In June 2008, CITES decided to allow four African countries to make a one-time sale of nearly 108 tons of stockpiled ivory. Whereas, China was allowed to import 62 tons of ivory as approved. But many experts have admitted, “This was a huge mistake, it provided a permanent cover for the existence of a black market.”
In this regard, Meng Xianlin, deputy director of China Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office, explained recently that the Chinese ivory trade is mainly used for ivory carving tradition, not a general trade. China has taken the most stringent regulatory measures on the ivory trade. He also reminded everyone that the demand for ivory can’t be attributed as the main motivation for elephant poaching.
Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the CEO of Save the Elephant has a different point of view. He believes that by banning the ivory trade China could save Africa’s elephants. “Excess demand for ivory is the root of the elephant poaching crisis. All other efforts to stop the killing of elephants will be useless if the world doesn’t stop buying ivory.
Whether the ivory trade should be completely banned still needs discussion, but there is less and less time left to protect African elephants. On November 3, 2013, Tanzanian authorities discovered over 700 tusks in a place where a Chinese citizen was residing. The ivory weighed 1800 kg (from approximatley 200 elephants).
It was November when the interview was over, and the rainy season was coming soon. “That time would be very beautiful, with green leaves and water everywhere, the elephant is not so easily hunted, but anti-poaching seems more difficult,” a patrol officer sighed.
This is the last time for thirst.