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Tag Archives: African countries
Voice of Russia
The summit aims to bring together top-level government representatives from 50 countries and for the first time it is hoped one of China’s vice premiers will attend.
Prince William is expected to make a speech at the conference, which will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. US Secretary of StateJohn Kerry will also be present, along with the leaders of several African countries.
Organisers hope that Chinese media icons Jackie Chan – the actor – and Yao Ming – the 7ft 6in former basketball star – will attend, to ensure the conference receives widespread coverage in China.
Andrew Leun, an independent expert on China, says:
“There’s an important role to be played by media icons like Jackie Chan .. the Chinese want to stand tall in the world not just because of the growth of the economy but because they embrace world values … nationalism and pride will play a big role in stamping out the ivory trade.”
China drives ivory trade
The explosive growth of China’s emerging middle class has brought with it sweeping economic change and social transformation – and a rapacious appetite for ivory.
China is responsible for over 70 percent of global demand for illegal ivory, and the Chinese are also the world’s leading consumers of tiger bone soup and rhino horn cures.
Without the demand from China, conservationists say the illegal ivory trade would all but dry up.
The Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries. Hand-carved ivory objects are proudly displayed in Chinese homes to symbolise wealth and status.
But now, unprecedented numbers are able to afford the precious material.
China’s economic boom has created a vast upper-middle class, and this new consumer group has caused the price of ivory to triple on the streets of Beijing.
Slaughter in Africa
Tens of thousands of African elephants are now being slaughtered to meet the demand. Last year, poaching in Africa was at its highest level since an international ban on ivory was applied in 1989.
Conservationists say the frenzy of killing now threatens the future survival of elephants.
Though much of the ivory traded is illegal, loopholes in trade regulations allow the sale of ivory in some circumstances. Countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe – where elephant populations are stable – are allowed to sell trophy licences that allow hunters to bring ivory across borders. Ivory obtained before the international ban is also legal – which provides an effective smokescreen for criminal trade.
Will Travers of Born Free says:
“China is the biggest market because in 2008 the international community decided it was acceptable to sell some stockpiled ivory to China and Japan to satisfy demand … what it did was it stimulated demand…”
But global leaders are not motivated by concern for elephants and rhinos alone. They smell danger.
Links with armed groups
The underground ivory trade is increasingly militarised. Militia groups sell ivory, and use this cash to buy weapons.
Organized crime syndicates link up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa all the way to China.
Links have been established with Africa’s most notorious armed groups, al-Shabaab –the al-Qaeda cell group involved in the recent Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi – and central Africa’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
Last week, the UN Security Council made moves to impose international sanctions and freeze the assets of illegal wildlife traffickers.
We spoke to Charlie Mayhew, CEO of conservation group Tusk Trust, about the security concerns.
The London conference will focus on four objectives: strengthening law enforcement; reducing demand; international collaboration; and helping Africa communities to find sources of income linked to protecting the animals rather than killing them. Higher penalties for poaching and smuggling will be a key topic of discussion.
All 38 African countries with elephants have agreed that their highest priority is to protect their elephants.
Conservationists hope the conference will herald an era when concern for animal welfare – rather than expensive trinkets – will be the hottest status symbol in China.
Bryan Christy, National Geographic
January 8, 2014
In a surprising step, China this week became the latest in a growing number of countries to publicly destroy large quantities of ivory to bring attention to the global trade in illegal ivory. From any angle, China’s move has important and positive implications for the fight against an illegal ivory trade that is killing tens of thousands of African elephants every year.
Still, not all ivory destruction ceremonies are alike, and when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, China is not just any country.
“Wildlife trafficking has become a serious problem, and illegal trade of ivory and wildlife products is increasing,” China’s State Forestry Administration declared in a statement to the United Nations explaining its decision to destroy 6.1 tons of its ivory this week. The destruction was conducted “for the purpose of raising public awareness, and demonstrating China’s resolve to combat wildlife trafficking.”
China’s destruction ceremony comes on the heels of similar acts by the United States (six tons) and the Philippines (five tons), both of which crushed their entire national ivory stocks last year. Together these three events represent the first time in history that non-African countries have publicly destroyed their ivory.
Not All Ivory Destructions Are Alike
The destruction of illegal ivory has become perhaps the most recognizable and powerful symbolic act in wildlife conservation, starting in 1989 when Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi, flanked by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, set fire to 12 tons of ivory.
Orange flames rising from that pile of tusks shocked the world and inspired parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to enact a global ban on international trade in ivory later that year.
What made Kenya’s action so significant was the sacrifice that the burning of its ivory represented: Burning ivory equaled burning cash, especially in a world before the ivory ban.
After the global ban on the ivory trade went into effect, elephant populations that had been decimated by poachers began to recover. The ban held for ten years until 1999, when CITES allowed a “one-time” experimental sale of 50 tons of ivory to Japan. The ivory trade ban took a second hit in 2008 when CITES allowed a second sale of 102 tons of ivory to Japan and China.
By all accounts, that second sale was a disaster. The Chinese economy was simply too hot, and global law enforcement too weak, to prevent the 2008 sale from opening the floodgates to a massive illegal ivory trade between Africa and China, resulting in the current bloodbath for African elephants.
In the wake of a poaching and trafficking crisis, countries have again turned to ivory destruction ceremonies to bring attention to the problem. In 2011 Kenya hosted a burn of 5.5 tons of ivory belonging to a number of African nations (but did not burn any of its own stock). Gabon burned its ivory in 2012.
Symbolic Acts Backed Up With Action
Importantly, destroying ivory stocks has been a symbolic act accompanied in each case by parallel action. Kenya’s 1989 ivory burn was not only a symbolic act for the world, it was also a tangible act of defiance against Zimbabwe and a handful of other pro-ivory-trade southern African countries that opposed an ivory ban. Likewise, Gabon’s burn said “no” to proposals to open Africa to ivory trading that were then actively being floated.
The Philippines ivory destruction ceremony was accompanied by an announcement of the launch of a new wildlife trafficking enforcement unit and an acknowledgment that the Philippines could not protect its ivory warehouse, which had been frequently robbed.
The United States, too, had more to say. The ivory destruction ceremony in Denver put a physical face on President Obama’s new cabinet-level Wildlife Trafficking Task Force, formed in part to recognize that wildlife trafficking is a national security issue, especially when it comes to ivory. Officials used the ivory destruction ceremony to float the idea of a nationwide ban on domestic ivory sales in the United States, not just on imports or exports. That idea is now gaining momentum in Washington and around the country.
The question is, what is the parallel message from China? Unlike any of these other countries, which all oppose international trade in ivory, China supports it. In fact, China is the world’s leading ivory consumer, legal and illegal, and it is home to the world’s biggest ivory-carving factory.
What Does This Mean for China?
Certainly, publicity from its ivory crush will help the Chinese government inform its public that not all ivory in China is legal. A survey conducted as part of the documentary Battle for the Elephants indicated that nearly 60 percent of Chinese believe that making ivory “illegal to purchase under any circumstances” under “the strong recommendation of a government leader” would be the most effective way to stop ivory trading.
So the crush has implications in terms of public awareness and demand reduction.
Yet China’s wildlife department, the State Forestry Administration, has a history of cooking the books when it comes to ivory policy. As I reported in Blood Ivory, in order to gain CITES approval to buy ivory in 2008, China made many small ivory seizures to improve its law enforcement rating even though it made no significant inroads against crime.
Likewise, China and Japan joined forces to manipulate the 2008 ivory auction prices and, rather than undercut the black market with cheap ivory as many hoped the sale would do, those in the government ivory industry raised prices, inviting more illegal trade, not less.
China’s ivory crush is to be commended on a level having nothing to do with wildlife directly. As I discovered during my three-year investigation of the international ivory trade for National Geographic, one of the primary uses of the very valuable sculptures carved in China’s legal ivory factories is as bribes to curry favor with superiors in government or to influence business clients. IFAW’s Grace Ge Gabriel has pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s austerity program has targeted corruption at all levels of government, with the consequence of reducing sales of luxury items, including shark fin soup and, potentially, ivory.
So far, the world has been unable to police the killing of elephants that has exploded after the legal ivory market was opened in China. Chinese wildlife department officials have repeatedly denied that China’s ivory industry is responsible for Africa’s poaching problem. As recently as last year, China’s CITES delegate Wan Ziming called upon delegates to allow sales to China of not only ivory from elephants that died of natural causes, but also of ivory seized in police actions.
Destroying such ivory this week suggests a possible change in thinking among wildlife department officials. Or, better still, maybe it suggests that more than China’s wildlife department is now listening.
Every two weeks or so, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs publishes a rhino poaching update, a running tally of rhinoceroses illegally killed for lucrative Asian black markets, along with a summary of arrests of poachers and rhino horn couriers. The latest, dated August 7, lists 553 rhinos poached so far this year and 147 arrests. South Africa is on track to lose 900 to 1,000 rhinos to poachers in 2013, smashing last year’s macabre record of 668. The epidemic of rhino poaching that broke out in 2008 shows no sign of dying down.
Africa’s elephants are also being shot in extraordinary and rising numbers for their ivory, now a hot-selling status and investment commodity in China. Experts estimate that a mind-boggling 25,000 to 40,000 elephants are being killed annually across the continent, which could be close to 10 percent of the total number remaining, and significantly more than are born each year.
But as the response to rhino and elephant poaching has become progressively more militarized, a stubborn reality remains: The continental-scale slaughter of rhinos and elephants continues to intensify, despite rising arrests and killings of poachers and increasing interdiction of illegal shipments of rhino horn and ivory. And although the toll would no doubt be worse without the anti-poaching efforts, experts say that other aspects of the battle to save Africa’s wildlife — including improving justice systems and launching efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products — have been given short shrift.
“You’re not going to just enforce your way out of this,” says Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a California-based conservation group that focuses on the consumer side of the illegal wildlife trade. “You’re never going to stop [poaching] by just putting new boots on guys in Africa because it’s a [game of] whack-a-mole.”
Knights believes that illicit wildlife products “always find their way out” to consumers who are willing to pay for them. That view is echoed by some drug policy experts, who liken the uphill battle against African poaching to the war on drugs, where the militarized enforcement-and-interdiction approach has been an extraordinarily expensive, bloody failure. “Where there is persistent demand for an illegal substance, there will be supply,” Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group that advocates for drug policy reform, told me.
The effort to stem the tide of rhino and elephant poaching has become a global concern. Saying that wildlife crime undermines security — a thinly disguised reference to terrorism — U.S. President Barack Obama last month announced a new Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.
No place better illustrates the challenges of protecting pachyderms than South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which has lost far more rhinos than any other African park in recent years. It has come under siege by poachers working for criminal networks that smuggle the horns — used in traditional Chinese medicine — through neighboring Mozambique to illegal markets in Asia.
South African National Parks’ (SANParks) first response to the outbreak of poaching in 2008 was to ramp up conventional ranger patrols in Kruger, home to thousands of rhinos. Poachers, mainly from Mozambique, responded by coming in larger groups, a “triggerman” with a heavy-caliber hunting rifle and “guards” carrying AK-47s. They weren’t shy about shooting at rangers, and many firefights ensued, some with fatal results. SANParks began retraining and better arming its rangers, who arrested and shot more poachers, but it wasn’t enough — the poachers kept coming in even greater numbers.
In 2011 the South African National Defense Force deployed two companies of troops, 265 men, in and around the park to help with the fight. Park enforcers got more air support, including more helicopters. A new spotter plane was donated by a South African arms exporter in late 2012, and various unmanned aircraft — including sophisticated military drones made by South African arms manufacturer Denel — have recently been deployed over the park on a trial basis. “Many arrests are now made with air support,” a spokesperson for SANParks told me.
SANParks has an annual anti-poaching budget of about $7.5 million, much of that spent in Kruger, and support worth millions more is provided by other government departments and private donors. More poachers are being arrested than ever before, and at least 23 have been shot dead by rangers since 2008. Nevertheless, the rhino slaughter is intensifying: So far this year, 345 rhino have been poached in the park, more than double the number killed in the first seven months of 2012.
Scores of rhino charities now collect millions of dollars annually around the world for public and private anti-poaching efforts across Africa. South Africa’s large private game farming and wildlife safari industries also now collectively spend millions of dollars annually on new armed guards. Most anti-poaching companies offer military-style training, and some are operated by South African soldiers of fortune who have worked for U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One company, Diceros, is marketing an integrated system made up of U.S. and South African military and security industry technology that includes high-definition radar, in-earth microphones, communications interception, long-range cameras, and drones. The company says that its gear currently monitors cattle rustlers and other smugglers on and around Lake Victoria in central Africa’s Rift Valley, with great success.
WWF is researching integrated high-tech, drone-centered surveillance systems in the arid north of Namibia. Funded by a $5 million grant from Google, WWF’s aim is to find reliable ways of integrating imagery from unarmed drones with real-time information about the location of poachers, armed ranger patrols, and electronically tagged rhinos so that rangers can be optimally deployed to protect the animals. Crawford Allan, a senior WWF/TRAFFIC wildlife crime expert, said that the project had been approached by dozens of drone manufacturers because “their military contracts are depleting and they’re looking for civilian applications” for their aircraft.
Kenya, which has lost a steadily increasing number of elephants and rhinos in recent years, has also entered the arms race with poachers, increasing its government budget for armed ranger patrols and just last week announcing a new, elite anti-poaching unit.
Many other African countries, including Botswana, Gabon and Cameroon, have deployed military units to conservation areas in recent years in response to increased poaching, including high-profile mass killings of elephants in central Africa by poachers with links to Janjaweed militias in Sudan.
Still, the epidemic rages on, prompting many experts to argue that a wider effort is needed. A key failing, conservationists say, lies in the continent’s justice systems, where evidence collection is often botched, prosecutions poorly handled, and judges often don’t take wildlife crime seriously, which sends the message that poaching is no big deal. Although some low-ranking “triggermen” have been caught and jailed in South Africa, cases against higher-level kingpins have dragged out for years.
In Kenya, conservationists were outraged when two guards implicated in a recent, brazen theft of ivory from an allegedly secure government stockpile were fired but not prosecuted. On July 1, a former U.S. defense attache, David McNevin, was caught at Nairobi airport with illegal ivory in his luggage. Despite the case’s high profile, his only punishment was a fine of about $350.
Incidents like these have amplified calls for poaching to be treated as seriously as drug smuggling and terrorism, with which, criminologists point out, it is often linked logistically and financially. President Obama’s new task force on wildlife trafficking is heavily populated by representatives from the departments involved in anti-drug and anti-terror efforts.
But, like the war on drugs, there are early signs that the war on poaching is plagued by the so-called “balloon effect.”
“When you suppress drug production in one area, it pops up in another” because consumer demand persists, said Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. The South African rhino crisis, for example, was preceded by a little-publicized wave of poaching in neighboring Zimbabwe, said Jo Shaw, WWF-South Africa’s rhino policy expert. Conservationists responded by relocating the country’s remaining animals into relatively small “intensive protection” zones, after which poaching took off in South Africa.
Wildlife traffickers are already shifting illicit transport routes in response to interdiction efforts through countries with weak controls, such as Togo. Some of the largest illegal ivory consignments recently interdicted in Asia, involving thousands of tusks, have originated at Togo’s port, Lome. Since Togo probably has a population of fewer than 65 elephants, the ivory clearly comes from elsewhere. In southern Africa, smugglers now avoid going through Johannesburg’s international airport, preferring the nearby, more poorly policed airport in Maputo, Mozambique.
If enforcement and interdiction is not sufficient, what else night work? Nadelmann cites a case from the drug world involving the club drug Ecstacy, popular in the 1990s. Its popularity declined rapidly after dealers began adulterating its main ingredient with other substances, thus destroying its reputation among users. Nadelmann suggested that “creative interventions in the market” designed to create distrust among Asian buyers about the quality or value of rhino horn and ivory might lower demand.
Some South African rhino owners are already attempting to degrade the value of rhino horn by injecting a combination of toxic insecticides and indelible dye into live animals’ horns. The toxic dye concoction will likely sicken (but not kill) consumers and will also make the horns more visible on x-ray machines. It’s too early to say if this has reduced demand, but owners are confident that it at least inspires poachers to avoid shooting animals with tainted horns.
Some media-savvy conservation groups say that well-crafted public relations and social awareness campaigns in Asia could significantly reduce demand for rhino horn and ivory, pointing to recent successes by a campaign to cut shark fin use. WildAid, which has produced slick video spots featuring celebrities to persuade Asians not to consume shark fin soup, said that shark fin imports into Hong Kong, a major hub for the trade, dropped by more than 70 percent from 2011 to 2012 as the campaign took effect.
WildAid’s Peter Knights said that the group has recently produced spots against rhino horn and ivory consumption, but had struggled for over a decade to fund them. It’s extremely difficult to raise money for campaigns to reduce demand, said Crawford Allan of WWF/TRAFFIC, because “donors like to see boots on the ground and technology.” Other conservationists say that donors, politicians, and the media find images of armed anti-poaching patrols, drones, and military equipment “sexy,” lamenting that the multi-faceted nature of the struggle to save rhinos and elephants is often glossed over.
Knights told me that policymakers have recently shown greater interest in targeting demand in Asia. Meanwhile, the stakes for rhinos and elephants get higher by the day, as ever-stronger groups of poachers continue to reap their harvests across Africa.