Tag Archives: conservationists

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

Crush course

Alex Hofford, South China Morning Post
December 15, 2013

Thick clouds of fine, choking white dust fill the winter afternoon air as a giant rockcrushing machine rumbles on. Coughing and spluttering, I struggle to hold my gaze as the spectacle is lost behind swirling clouds.

A cascade of crushed ivory is spewed out by a giant blue machine used more often to crush stones to mix with bitumen than grind up parts of an endangered species from another continent.

Surrounded by conservationists and journalists looking on in deafened awe, wildlife officials in hard hats and highvisibility vests load an excavator with large pieces from a giant pile of elephant tusks and with carved ivory statuettes, trinkets and jewellery. The excavator shuttles back and forth, from tusk pile to rock crusher, feeding the metallic beast as it feasts upon what remains of countless herds of elephants.

This was the scene Hong Kong schoolgirls Lucy Skrine, 11, and Christina Seigrist, eight, hoped to witness in their hometown when they started a petition (bit.ly/BanHKIvoryTrade) through online activist network Avaaz in September to have the city’s stockpile of more than 33 tonnes of confiscated ivory destroyed. It was the scenario they wanted to achieve with the 10,000 signatures they asked for.

But this is not Hong Kong. The rock crusher is at work in Denver, Colorado, where it is crushing the United States government’s six-tonne stockpile of ivory seized from tourists and smugglers at the country’s land borders and airports since the 1980s.

Wildlife officials say it is hard to estimate exactly, but they believe the total being crushed here amounts to the tusks of between 1,000 and 2,000 elephants – a fraction of the number of dead animals represented by Hong Kong’s stockpile.

In June, the Philippine government crushed and burnt its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa – Zambia, Kenya and Gabon – have destroyed by incineration their seized ivory stockpiles. The five nations that have now destroyed their confiscated ivory stockpiles have (along with the Indian state of Maharashtra and France, which has just announced it is to follow suit) sent an unequivocal message to poachers in Africa, ivory dealers everywhere and consumers in China that the trade will not be tolerated by their governments.

“If Manila can do it, and Denver can do it, why can’t Hong Kong follow their lead?” asks Lucy.

The girls are protesting against what they describe as a brutal trade in blood ivory going on right under the noses of Hong Kong officials, because here the legal market for ivory has been providing cover for a parallel illegal market for decades. Retailers are allowed to sell ivory in Hong Kong as long as it has come from pre-1989-ban stocks or the 108 tonnes four African nations sold to China in 2008, and has been carved in the city. There is no way to ascertain whether a particular piece of ivory in a shop conforms to these stipulations or not, though.

Their petition captured the public imagination. Supporters joined forces to form Hong Kong for Elephants, an NGO whose members staged a vigil for the dead outside a Kowloon branch of Chinese Arts & Crafts – thought to be the city’s major ivory retailer – on October 4, as part of the International March for Elephants.

The demand for ivory in China is now so strong that poaching in Africa has reached unprecedented levels, with some conservationists warning that unless something is done – and fast – elephants will be extinct in the wild within a decade. The US government and conservation body WWF believe that about 36,000 elephants are being killed each year for their tusks. That’s a devastating 96 per day, or one every 15 minutes.

“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the US government is sending a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said WWF president and chief executive Carter Roberts in a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) press release. “Other countries need to join the US, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter.”

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell echoes Roberts’ sentiments in the release: “Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent. We encourage other nations to join us both in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

The logic behind the destruction of ivory is that, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreement, any government-seized ivory would never be made available to the market, anyway. Therefore, its destruction sends a powerful message to traffickers while having no impact on the overall supply, and thus not creating an incentive for poaching.

One aspect of the stockpile crush in the US troubles some wildlife groups, however. The USFWS, which organised the Denver crush, stopped short of incineration, ostensibly out of concerns about emissions. So, in effect, it has left itself some unfinished business.

Wildlife officials are instead planning to give the crushed ivory to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which will then divide it up and send it to member zoos across the country, to be made into elephant conservation memorials. In so doing, the USFWS will pass the security headache – and cost – of maintaining safe custody of the crushed ivory to individual zoos. Since ivory is worth even more than gold by weight, though, it’s hard to imagine how some pieces will not go missing in the process.

“The decision to donate crushed ivory to American zoos is misguided,” says Joyce Poole, co-director of ElephantVoices and a renowned Kenya-based elephant behavioural scientist and advocate. “A monument to slaughtered elephants to remind people of the terrible consequences of trading in the body parts of animals is important, but using elephant ivory is in bad taste. Would we use human body parts in a memorial to those men and women who have succumbed to war?

“Furthermore, the chunks of ivory are still large enough for criminals to remove and make into small items of jewellery for resale. The crushed ivory should be incinerated and put beyond reach.”

It is also not entirely inconceivable that the AZA may one day be the subject of a buyout similar to that in September of Smithfield, America’s biggest pork producer, which merged with Shuanghui, its counterpart in China. If the zoos association were to one day be rescued by a Chinese white knight, all its assets, including any elephant memorials made of crushed ivory, would probably become the property of the new owner, to do with as it pleased. It is therefore possible that, notwithstanding any of the trade bans currently being lobbied for in the US Congress, the market could become flooded with tiny gravel-sized trinkets, such as the ivory stud earrings that retail for HK$480 a pair in shops on Hollywood Road, made with the ivory crushed in Denver.

“If the crushed ivory ends up as small, usable, raw pieces, there is the risk that this can be reused and so, perhaps, a more thorough means of destruction such as incineration may be necessary,” says Sharon Kwok, a Hong Kong-based conservationist and executive director of the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation.

Other conservationists are satisfied to adopt a less purist approach, however. “Crushing is a symbolic measure,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “[The actions of ] both the US and Philippines … are particularly important for Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is not just a pure consumer region, it’s a transit region as well. Hong Kong is a gateway for mainland China [and it] is really important for China to follow suit.

“If the Hong Kong authorities are able to incinerate the ivory without emissions, then sure, but if they are crushing it and we’re worried that the little bits and pieces will have nowhere to go, then maybe the officials can dump it in the sea when it is crushed. It can be done in really deep sea.”

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has, in fact, already conducted a successful trial burn. Last year, it incinerated three tonnes of confiscated ivory in the extreme high temperature environment of the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Centre. Not only did the trial burn give off zero emissions, it even generated power.

When asked, a department spokesman indicates that a Hong Kong crush is not entirely out of the question: “Since 2003, seizure of ivory amounts to about 32 tonnes, which makes up the bulk of the ivory stockpile in Hong Kong. The AFCD has been exploring destruction as a means to dispose of the confiscated ivory, [as] permitted under the Cites guidelines.

“When we come to a more concrete proposal, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, a [local] statutory advisory body on protection of endangered species, will be consulted.”

All eyes in the elephant conservation world are now on Hong Kong – with its huge stockpile, will it crush, crush and burn, or do nothing?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a paralysis in the city. With awareness levels roughly where they were 10 years ago on the shark-fin issue, the current poaching crisis is just not on the radar of the average Hongkonger. Even WWF Hong Kong does not have an active ivory reduction campaign.

Activists fear that if Hong Kong, which plays a large role in the ivory trade – not only as a major transit point for the mainland but also as a large consumer in its own right – does not wake up to this pressing issue soon, it could be too late.

As Lucy and Christina’s petition approaches the 10,000-signature mark, another youngster, Hong Kong International School Year Six student Nellie Shute, 11, has also taken action.

Nellie successfully lobbied her school principal to return to the AFCD the ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces it had loaned to her school under what she believes is the misguided Endangered Species Specimen Donation Programme.

“The tusk and ivory carvings on display in my school were not educating students, they were reinforcing the idea that it’s acceptable to display ivory as artwork,” says Nellie. “Now my school has agreed to send them back with a petition signed by students asking for the ivory stockpile to be destroyed.

“I’m trying to make change because I refuse to believe that’s the future. I don’t want to tell the next generation that there used to be these magnificent creatures, but human greed ended their existence and we did nothing to stop it.”

On the subject of elephant conservation, it seems, Hong Kong’s schoolchildren are putting the city’s adults to shame.

Ivory poaching in Mozambique

by Hongxiang Huang and Estacio Valoi

28 November, 2013

Conservationists say that blood money from ivory trafficking was used to fuel tensions in the run-up to elections in Mozambique. Municipal elections were held in late November 2013; and presidential, parliamentary and regional assembly elections will be held on October 15 next year. Violent flare-ups between the ruling party Frelimo and the opposition Renamo in recent months have led to fears that the civil war which ravaged Mozambique from 1975 to 1992 may be rekindled.

Conservationists in northern Mozambique, where an average of three to four elephants are being poached a day, have implicated local authorities in the killing spree. Rangers say the weapons used include helicopters and heavy-calibre guns normally used by military forces. In Niassa National Reserve, where elephant numbers have dropped from more than 20,000 in 2009 to about 9,000 earlier this year, Frelimo has been accused of using the proceeds of ivory sales to fund its 10th anniversary congress in nearby Pemba last year.

Rangers involved in anti-poaching patrols in Niassa, who did not want to be named for fear of losing their jobs, said they had noticed the use of heavy artillery and helicopters in poaching activities in the lead-up to the Frelimo conference in September 2012. The rangers said they had been excluded from an area near the party’s district headquarters in Mecula, near the Niassa reserve, where the carcasses of more than 50 elephants had been stacked. Their efforts to report the slaughter to police officials and border guards were fruitless.

A report on poaching in neighbouring Quirimbas National Park in Cabo Delgado province by the Mozambican tourism ministry, in late 2011, noted that poachers were using “sophisticated weapons” and helicopters. A private tourism operator in the national park, Jabobs von Landsberg, said at least 89 elephants had been poached in his 35,000ha concession area of the 750,000ha national park in the past 18 months. Yet before 2009 when the poaching started to take off, elephant numbers in his tourism concession had steadily increased from the end of the civil war to about 150.

António Frangoulis, a criminologist at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo and a former Frelimo luminary, said he had received reports from various sources claiming that local authorities were conniving in the poaching and that military weapons were being used. “We are talking about weapons normally used by the police and military forces,” he said. “We are talking about the involvement of official authorities.” Frangoulis was a member of parliament and head of the Mozambican police investigative division until he was sacked in 2009 for criticising Frelimo.

Alastair Nelson, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mozambique, said the proceeds from ivory, which is smuggled via the nearby port of Pemba or across the border into Tanzania, were fuelling corruption in northern Mozambique. Many of the armed skirmishes between Frelimo and Renamo in recent months have occurred in the northern regions of the country. “Ivory poaching and trafficking fuels petty corruption, especially in sensitive border areas,” Nelson said. “It’s a governance issue. Tackling the petty corruption will improve border security, export control, customs receipts, and help to release the local population from having to live with corruption.”

Renamo, which has pulled out of the elections and been on the run since the army attacked its military base in early July, has not been directly linked to ivory smuggling.

Frelimo party spokesman Damiao Jose and presidential spokesman Edson Macuacua said they were too busy organising the November municipal elections to discuss the poaching allegations.

Kenya Set to Launch Anti-Poaching Unit to Save Wildlife

Xinhua

August 5, 2013
The Kenyan government has formed an inter-agency elite unit to fight rampant poaching across the East African nation, officials confirmed on Monday.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Mbugua said the 120- member anti-poaching squad consisting personnel drawn from various government agencies will be unveiled by the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet secretary Professor Judi Wakhungu on Thursday.

“The government has formed an inter-agency elite crack unit to fight poaching. The unit will be launched possiblyon Thursday to help boost fight against poaching in frontline  areas which have been affected by poaching such as Tsavo,” Mbugua told Xinhua by telephone on Monday.

The move comes after the anti-poaching campaign “Hands off our Elephants” emphasizing conserving elephant for posterity carried out by government and conservationists.

According to statistics from the KWS, elephant poaching has grown consistently over the last three years during which 829 elephants were killed. Last year, Kenya lost 384 elephants to poachers compared to 278 in 2011 and 177 in 2010. The rest is estimated to be eliminated in the next 10 years unless stronger counter-poaching measures are taken.

Conservationists say rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia is the main reason causing the poaching crisis across Africa, as the continent has witnessed loss of over 1,000 rhinos in the last 18 months.

Kenya has been identified as one of the leading transit routes for smuggling ivory out of Africa. KWS estimates that more than eight tones of raw and worked ivory have been seized since 2009.

The East African nation has also lost 21 rhinos and 117 elephants to poachers since the beginning of 2013. Out of these elephants, the spokesman said, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas.

Mbugua believed “The anti-poaching crack unit will be a big plus for KWS since it will help boost our fight against poachers.”