Tag Archives: EIA

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

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

Japanese appetite for ivory fuels poaching epidemic

Poorly controlled ivory sales in Japan are encouraging illegal trade in elephant tusks and large amounts of ivory are entering the domestic market.

Online selling and weak controls on domestic ivory sales in Japan are spurring illegal international trade in elephant tusks and contributing to a steep rise in poaching, activists said.

A lack of rules regulating the registration of raw ivory and the licensing of importers, wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers has allowed illicit stocks into Japan’s domestic market, according to the report by the independent London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Under current rules, only whole elephant tusks must be registered with Japan’s Environmental Agency.

“Japan’s ivory controls are flawed and there is evidence that large amounts of illegal ivory … have been laundered into the domestic market,” said the report, which was co-authored by animal welfare group Humane Society International.

Urgent response required

“The current African elephant poaching crisis requires an urgent and swift response before populations are wiped out. The flourishing domestic ivory markets of Japan and China are now the key driving force behind Africa’s poaching epidemic and global illegal ivory trade.”

According to a 2013 study by the University of Washington, the annual number of African elephants being slaughtered to supply the illegal ivory trade is estimated to be as high as 50,000, or roughly one sixth of the continent’s remaining elephant population.

International trade in ivory is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but its growth is being fuelled by legal domestic markets in countries such as Japan and China, where trade is being supported by the advance of e-commerce.

US President Barack Obama in February announced new restrictions on the commercial import of African elephant ivory, as well as on what sport hunters can bring back to the country.

Much of the ivory imported into Japan goes into making traditional name stamps, called hankos, that are used in lieu of signatures on documents.

Sales and advertisements stopped

The EIA said between 2005 and 2010, illegal ivory accounted for up to 87%of ivory hankos produced in Japan.

It named Japanese website Rakuten Ichiba as the world’s top marketplace for elephant ivory, citing more than 28 000 advertisements for products. Rakuten Ichiba is Japan’s biggest online shopping site with more than 87 million members.

Rakuten Ichiba is owned by Japan-headquartered Rakuten Group , which also owns British based Play.com, Canadian e-reader firm Kobo, and has a stake in social media site Pinterest.

Rakuten Group did not respond to several requests for comment.

“Amazon and Google have stopped all sales or advertisements of whale, dolphin and ivory through their Japanese e-commerce sites, and Rakuten must do the same,” the EIA said.

The article can be found in the following link:


Time to hunt down the ‘kingpins’ of wildlife crime

Sarah Morrison, The Independent
February 6, 2014
World leaders are being urged to crack down on the masterminds behind gangs that make billions from animal carcasses

The dangerous criminal networks that run the global wildlife trade have been allowed to persist and prosper as a result of “chronic government failures” to treat them seriously, experts have warned, days before the world’s biggest conference on international wildlife crime.

The £12bn industry is the world’s fourth biggest illegal trade after narcotics, human trafficking and counterfeiting. But despite arresting traffickers and seizing wildlife parts, law enforcers have failed to arrest or convict the criminal masterminds wreaking havoc across Africa, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has been investigating the trade for more than three decades.

“Despite record seizures of illegal ivory, not a single criminal kingpin involved in the international illegal trade of ivory has prosecuted and convicted to date. That is a damning indictment. With less than 3,500 wild tigers left, elephant numbers plummeting and rhinos under attack again, we need to get it right,” said Mary Rice, executive director of the EIA.

We know time is running out. Around 100 elephants are killed every day for their ivory, and conservationists warn that in some parts of Africa formerly great populations could be wiped out in just five years. Last year was reportedly the worst on record for rhino poaching in South Africa; 1,004 animals were killed – a 50 per cent increase on 2012. Almost 6,000 Asian big cats have been identified in trade over the past 13 years and at least 45 tonnes of ivory were seized in 2013, a haul believed to be the largest in a quarter of a century.

But as world leaders and heads of state prepare to fly into London for the conference, where they will try to find a solution to global wildlife crime, the report warns that “greater effort is needed to build evidence against the main culprits who lead the smuggling syndicates without getting their hands dirty”. The EIA suggests that this will require detailed detective work involving intelligence sharing between agencies, and internationally, and the use of forensic techniques.

The report, In Cold Blood: Combating Organised Wildlife Crime, draws attention to the most notorious wildlife crimes in history, from the discovery of 31 tiger skins, 581 leopard skins and 778 otter skins in Tibet in a routine vehicle search in 2003, to the recovery of 532 elephant tusks in Singapore a year before. In neither case were the leaders of the networks prosecuted.

A picture emerges of highly intelligent criminal syndicates that commission the mass slaughter of animals, forge documentation, commit tax fraud, and constantly evade justice. “For decades, criminal gangs have been devastating our environment and driving both iconic and little-known species to the brink of extinction. Undermining democratic structures and fostering corruption at every level, these individuals have been operating with [impunity] for decades,” Ms Rice added.

But world leaders are finally acknowledging the scale of the problem. Yesterday, the UK government announced it would fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit for another two years. The French government also crushed three tonnes of seized ivory, two months after it announced its national action plan against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. This follows the destruction of seized ivory by Gabon, the US, the Philippines and China.

“Illegal wildlife trade can be serious, organised and global,” said Sabri Zain, director of policy at Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “Every country has a part to play to ensure the criminal networks behind it are dismantled.”

The Independent, with its sister titles, is running an elephant appeal supporting Space for Giants, a charity determined to defend Africa’s elephants. But we want to halt all wildlife crime.

Our petition calls for world leaders to commit to better training and resources for rangers; to provide better education in places such as Asia, where consumer demand is driving up poaching; to stamp down on corruption and implement laws against those involved in the trade; to help local communities develop sustainable livelihoods; and to uphold the ban on the international trade in ivory.

Six of the worst:

The Singapore ivory seizure

When the Singaporean authorities were tipped-off in 2002 about a vessel supposedly carrying stone sculptures from Malawi, they discovered the largest batch of ivory seized since the 1989 international ban. It totalled 7.2 tonnes, over six tonnes from slaughtered elephants, sourced largely from Zambia.

The seized container was reportedly just one of 19 suspected shipments by an organised ivory syndicate. Japan was its final destination. Despite a small fine issued to the shipping agent, none of the key players were prosecuted.

Chand big cat case

When it emerged that all of the tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve, India, had been poached in 2005, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation began investigating.

The Delhi City Crime Branch intercepted telephone calls reportedly leading to Sansar Chand, one of the most notorious tiger traders in history – who was first arrested in 1974. When he was arrested in June 2005, it was estimated his network controlled 50 per cent of the illegal market in tiger and leopard skins. He and his associates reportedly had at least 57 court cases pending against them.

He was charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime, a landmark charge against a wildlife criminal. Members of Chand’s family have reportedly continued trading.

Tibet animal skins case

When police in Sangsang, Ngamring County, Tibet, conducted a routine vehicle search in 2003, they discovered a huge collection of skins from Asian big cats and other species: 31 tiger skins, 581 leopard skins and 778 otter skins, valued at $7.6m.

Some of the tightly packed skins had bullet holes in them and had Delhi newspapers stuck to their rear. The three people in the car were suspects were found guilty, convicted and sentenced to death in October 2004, subsequently reduced to life imprisonment. The convictions did not result in identification of the leaders of the smuggling syndicate.

The Teng Group ivory case

A shipping container of used tyres arrived in Cameroon from Hong Kong in 2006. It was emptied, loaded with timber and dispatched again for Asia. But when custom officials in Hong Kong X-rayed the container, they found 3.9 tonnes of ivory tusks concealed behind the timber, in a specially-modified compartment. It was a record seizure for Hong Kong at the time, representing at least 400 slaughtered elephants.

Paperwork reportedly indicated the transport of at last 12 previous shipments, along the same route. The shipments were reportedly linked to the ‘Teng Group’ – a notorious syndicate connected to money laundering and drug trafficking with connections to Nigeria. The criminal syndicate has so far evaded the law.

Sham rhino hunters

Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai was arrested in South Africa in 2011 and charged with illegally obtaining hunting permits to fraudulently export rhino horns. He pled guilty to 52 counts. The following year, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison – reduced to 30 on appeal. But it’s not just Asia.

Last year, the Czech authorities arrested 15 people connected to sham rhino hunts in South Africa. In total, 24 rhino horns have been seized in the Czech Republic in the past few years.

Gir lion poaching

Organised poachers targeted the last remaining population of Asiatic lions, found in Gir National Park, India, in 2007, in a bid to feed the international market the bones it craved.  Suspects were arrested in  possession of lion claws and traps, their fingernails were clipped for evidence of lion blood and samples of blood-soaked clothing were taken.

A bandage found at the scene connected the suspects’ DNA with the location. Ultimately, 36 poachers were convicted and a major trader network was exposed.

These case studies are taken from an EIA report.

Sign our petition to stop the illegal killing of elephants now.

Legal ivory trade ‘will fuel demand’

By Melanie Gosling, Independent Online
December 13 2013

Cape Town – About 30 000 elephants are killed in Africa every year, and opening the legal ivory trade is likely to increase poaching and lead to local extinctions of these big mammals, according to international NGO Environmental Investigation Agency.

Executive director Mary Rice, who was in Cape Town after attending the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone earlier this month, said unless countries backed off the idea of selling stockpiles of ivory, “there is not a bright future for elephants”.

“We are in a major crisis of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade. The year exceeded all others with more than 40 tons of ivory seized. South Africa is not being impacted by ivory poaching now, but that could change. Step outside South Africa and the situation is critical. We’re already seeing incursions into Botswana and Namibia, and both are countries perceived to be well resourced and policed,” Rice said.

There are differing views on whether selling the stockpiles of ivory, built up over years from natural elephant deaths, will flood the market and reduce demand, there-by protecting elephants from poachers’ guns, or whether doing so will stimulate the ivory market and increase poaching.

International trade in ivory is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

However, under pressure from southern African states with stockpiles of ivory, Cites authorised two controlled auctions of ivory, in 1999 and 2008. South Africa’s official stance is that there is no link between the legal ivory trade and poaching.

Environment Minister Edna Molewa said earlier this year: “As far as South Africa is concerned there is no linkage between that once-off sale (in 2008) and poaching. While we know what is happening in other range states – as seen in the media where elephants are, for example, being poached to fund rebel forces in internal conflicts – we would like to emphasise that no elephant have been poached in South Africa since the once-off sale. We are only aware of two elephants that have died in the past decade, after being caught in snares set for antelopes.”

South Africa is to host the Cites meeting in 2016.

Rice believes legalising one-off sales of stockpiles stimulates the market and provides a cover for poached ivory. “In the light of the current poaching crisis, the most significant urgent measure that could be adopted is to make a complete ban on all ivory trade, domestic and international. The message we put out is: ‘Don’t sell ivory of any kind. It is not the answer’.

“Instead, states with elephant populations need to tackle corruption, which fuels the illegal trade, and need to approach the illegal trade from an intelligence base. It is a narrow, blinkered view that selling ivory will solve poaching. We urge South Africa to look at alternatives to trade. If South Africans go down this route… they will find themselves living to regret it,” Rice said. “Selling the ivory stockpile… could stimulate even more demand for ivory.” – Cape Times

The Chinese ivory-smugglers in Africa

Who are the Chinese smuggling ivory out of Africa and how are they doing it? Huang Hongxiang went to Mozambique to investigate

Dong has been sent to Mozambique by his employer, a Chinese communications company. At a busy weekly market he used his phone to record a message of congratulations for a relative back home who is getting married before buying several ivory bracelets: “Look, this is the biggest ivory market in Maputo, I’ll find some good stuff to bring you.”

The traders sell a range of crafts – paintings, carvings, cabinets, stone jewellery. But for Chinese shoppers, it’s just “the ivory market”.

“What are you looking for? Ivory? Ebony? We’ve got it, cheap!” The sellers are particularly happy to see Chinese customers, and have learned the Chinese words needed to attract them. Cardboard boxes by their stalls are full of ivory products, only to be shown to Chinese shoppers. Ebony, a precious and slow-growing hardwood, is another popular choice with the Chinese.

Li, an employee of a Chinese oil company, has lived here for two years. He explains to newly-arrived colleagues how to get ivory bead bracelets back home. “Cut the string and hide the beads in your luggage, then restring it when you get back – it’s still the same bracelet.”

Chen, a construction company employee, has more advice: “Just don’t take more than a kilogram or two at once. You won’t have any trouble leaving here, and if it’s found at customs in China you just have to hand it over – it’s cheap to buy here anyway.” He’s been working here for a year and visits the market every week, choosing the best products. He showed me his collection – bracelets, chopsticks, stamps.

The growth in the illegal trade in ivory and the involvement of Chinese citizens is a cause of major concern both internationally and in China. In late October, customs officers in Xiamen, a city in south east China, seized a 12 tonne shipment of ivory worth 600 million yuan – the biggest ivory bust in Chinese history. Days later, 1.8 tonnes of ivory were found in the Tanzanian home of a Chinese man.

The most common way in which Chinese get involved in the ivory trade in Africa is as souvenir hunters, such as Dong, Li and Chen. Employees sent here by their companies, migrants running small shops – many of them take small quantities of ivory on trips home. Ivory is cheap here – a bracelet might cost the equivalent of four or five hundred yuan, but sell for up to 10,000 yuan on the black market in China. In Asia, a kilogram of ivory could cost up to US$3,000, but hunters in impoverished areas of Africa will sell it for about 300 yuan, and it still won’t be too expensive by the time it’s reached Beijing.

It’s not just the huge profits that attract customers – they also know the risks are low. “In theory legitimate ivory products can be sold locally, they just can’t be exported,” said Baodai, an official at Quirimbas National Park in the north of the country.

Mozambique’s laws on ivory are weak, and the situation is worsened by rampant corruption. Legally each type of animal has a value – for example, an elephant is worth about US$4 million. Poachers who are caught have to pay that value in compensation, but are freed in order to get the money and are only jailed if they can’t pay. And in reality poachers are rarely caught and those that are slip through the net. Meanwhile, corruption makes a mockery of the rules on sale and export of ivory.

Zhu works at the airport: “Give the customs people 2,000 metical (400 yuan) and they won’t check your luggage.” As long as you’re happy to spend a little on bribes at the airport, he said, there’s no need to worry.

The souvenir hunters might only smuggle a little each, but the huge numbers of Chinese people travelling to Africa make for a huge market. In addition, there is another another class of smugglers altogether.

The north of Mozambique is a major centre for elephant poaching. The region’s main port, Pemba, is home to many Chinese businessmen, mostly in the timber trade – shipping containers of local wood back home to China. According to an Environmental Investigation Agency study in 2011, many of the Chinese timber firms are involved in smuggling – they do not fell timber themselves, but buy it cheaply from locals, asking no questions about whether or not it has been cut legally, then ship it back home for sale. They exist in a grey zone, taking advantages of regulatory and customs loopholes – and often they are involved in other shady businesses.

In 2011, 126 tusks were found in a container of timber belonging to a Chinese company, Tianhe, along with one rhino horn and some pangolin scales. The firm was ordered to pay its local partner MITI US$3.5m, and was closed in August this year.

Dewa, a MITI official, insisted in the local media that his company had nothing to do with their Chinese partner’s ivory smuggling. He expressed anger: “We might not have any evidence, but we know it’s not just the one company doing this.

The Chinese are all at it!” Most of the port’s Chinese traders exist in a grey area and know only too well how to work within a corrupt government.

When I paid an undercover visit to one local Chinese timber firm I saw two uniformed Mozambicans watching Chinese soap operas on the office television.

“One is a customs officer, the other’s with the police. In theory they’re here to inspect the containers as we load them, but they just come for the bribes and to watch television,” explained a company employee, smiling.

“Tianhe got caught as they failed to pay enough bribes – that was a false economy,” said Zhou, manager of another large Chinese timber firm. He claimed his company is the only clean Chinese firm locally, but checking online found it was involved in multiple cases of timber smuggling. The local media referred to the firm as a repeat offender. Higher up the food chain there is a small number of more powerful smugglers. In Kenya an official with a Chinese firm told me that “a lot of ivory is moved via ‘diplomatic channels’, not by us ordinary folk.”

He was referring to particular corrupt government officials who take advantage of their diplomatic flights to avoid customs and smuggle ivory. These are all high-ranking figures, and so it is rare for there to be any arrests.

In June 2013, Xinhua’s English edition reported that a Chinese diplomat and a Chinese military officer had been detained in Zambia on suspicion of smuggling 27 kilograms of ivory worth US$140,000. But there were no details on who these people actually were.

When I asked the Chinese embassy in Mozambique about this, the response was that “the vast majority of Chinese citizens obey Mozambique’s laws, but it is not impossible that certain individuals trade in illegal ivory. The embassy will continue its education efforts.”

The original article can be found in this link: http://www.chinadialogue.org.cn/article/show/single/en/6540-The-Chinese-ivory-smugglers-in-Africa

Ivory stockpile to be publicly destroyed as Obama seeks to end illegal trade

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
10 November 2013

The ivory stockpile in the secure government warehouse – six tonnes of scarred tusks, glossy Confucius statuettes with $10,000 (more than £6,000) price stickers, coffee table items, and too many chunky cuff bracelets to count – represents millions of dollars and the slaughter of thousands of African elephants.

On 14 November, at Barack Obama’s instruction, and in front of visiting dignitaries and television cameras, every last intricately carved and high-dollar item will be fed into the jaws of an industrial strength rock-crushing machine and smashed to splinters.

The hope is that this public act of destruction will serve as a turning point. White House officials and conservation groups calculate that demonstrating the president’s commitment to breaking up the illegal ivory trade will persuade other governments to take similar measures, and help put the wildlife traffickers on the run.

But it may be too late. Two decades after an international ban on ivory sales, an explosion in wildlife trafficking has once again brought African elephants to the brink of extinction. Nearly 100 African elephants are killed every day for their tusks to feed a huge demand for ivory trinkets from newly wealthy buyers in Asia who see ivory as a status symbol.

US security officials say the global trade in illegal ivory has grown to $10bn (about £6.2bn) a year – just behind drugs and human trafficking. The huge profit potential has also turned ivory into an important line of financing for terrorist networks such as al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliate that carried out September’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

“This is not the kind of poaching that we have dealt with in the past,” said Dan Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency leading the US fight against wildlife trafficking. “It’s syndicated and sophisticated criminal organisations that are driving the trade.”

The grisly results are visible in the vast storehouse outside Denver – ordinarily off-limits to the public – where six tonnes of ivory seized by US law enforcement officials over the past 25 years is heaped among stuffed tigers, caiman ashtrays, and other artifacts of the illegal wildlife trade.

The smuggled ivory was seized by US agents at airports and cargo ships, hidden in the false bottoms of suitcases and shipping crates, buried in jars of face cream, or disguised by being stained dark brown with tea. Some of the ivory – the big display case of bracelets – made it as far as a jewellery shop off Times Square in New York city, before it was seized by agents.

“There could be several hundred elephants represented on this pallet alone,” said Bernadette Atencio, the supervisor of the US Fish and Wildlife repository.

America is one of the top destinations of illegal ivory from Africa, as well as an important transhipment point for the carved ivory trinkets bound ultimately for the leading markets in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

But the six-tonne haul is only half that seized in China this week alone – 3,1888 pieces of elephant tusks were found in Xiamen city, with an estimated value of 603m Yuan ($99m or £62m) on the black market. The sheer volume of trade is depleting populations of African adult male elephants, Atencio said, reaching for a polished tusk, carved with renderings of the “big five” in African game.

“I think the baby tusks are the most heartbreaking,” she said. “What I see here are lost generations of elephants, many many generations of elephants that will never be because these elephants were not allowed to mature and to reach an adult size.

By ordering the destruction of the ivory haul in Denver, American officials hope to send a definitive message to traffickers that the bottom is about to fall out of the ivory trade, and that there is no use hanging on to stores of ivory, because it will eventually end up being destroyed.

The strategy has been endorsed by leading conservation groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, and wildlife officials in Kenya and other states which depend on African elephants for their tourism industries.

“It does send a signal that ivory is not going to be a good investment for very much longer,” said Allan Thornton, who heads the Environmental Investigation Agency.

US diplomats are now reaching out to other governments to carry out similar high-profile acts of destruction. Kenya has destroyed its stores of illegal ivory in the past. The Philippines carried out a crush earlier this year.

The Obama administration is stepping up aid and training for park rangers in Africa to try to stop the traffickers on the ground. The Clinton Global Initiative has also aligned with the US government efforts, with Hillary Clinton in September announcing an $80m initiative to train park rangers and sniffer dogs at 50 poaching hot spots across Africa.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is promising to strengthen penalties against those caught smuggling ivory, a White House adviser said. “The laws need to be changed. They need to be stiffened,” said David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of interior who was appointed last September to a new White House council on wildlife trafficking. “I think that’s going to be a primary focus for the advisory council – enforcement penalties, and what we allow and what we don’t.”

The push to end trafficking comes at a desperate time for African wildlife, with rhinos and elephants under threat from mass poaching gangs. The explosion in poaching threatens to reverse a conservation successory story, with African elephants showing signs of a comeback after a 1990 ban on ivory sales.

But conservation groups say that positive outcome was undermined by a misguided decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the entity set up to protect at-risk wildlife, to allow limited sales of ivory. In 1997, Zimbabwe was granted permission to conduct a limited sale of 50 tonnes of ivory. In 2008, China was also allowed to import 60 tonnes of ivory. The idea was to slake the demand for ivory among the newly wealthy elites of China. But the result was a catastrophe for African wildlife, said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of Wildlife Direct. “We have seen in Kenya an eight-fold increase in poaching since 2009,” she said. “The volume of ivory being taken across the country is just staggering.”

Campaign groups said the combination of new buying power in Asia – where there is a surge in demand for ivory – and armed groups was overwhelming poorly paid and trained rangers in African wildlife parks.

A new breed of traffickers, armed with night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles, began staging mass attacks – such as last September’s cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants at a Zimbabwe watering hole.

What put elephants on the top of the US agenda however was terrorism. Over the past few years, US intelligence officials have accumulated evidence that wildlife trafficking is funding rebel armies and causing instability in Africa.

US security officials and campaign groups have said the militant group al-Shabaab was getting up to 40% of its funds from the illegal wildlife trade, with ivory financing their operations and paying their footsoldiers, by acting as middlemen in the wildlife trade.

The result is a grisly kill-to-order system, with brokers paying poachers as little as $20 a pound for the raw tusks, and selling them onwards for as much as $800 a pound in some parts of Asia. Finished pieces sell for up to $4,000 a pound.

By last year, Clinton, then secretary of state, was so concerned about the links with terrorist groups that she designated wildlife trafficking a national security threat. Barack Obama during a visit to Africa in July also pledged action against the traffickers.

On 14 November, the international community – and the traffickers – will witness the first instalment of Obama’s anti-trafficking plan. It’s far from certain, though, whether Obama will be able to pull African elephants back from the brink, yet again.

“I believe that the scope and impact of the poaching crisis has now reached the highest levels of the US government,” said John Webb, a former Department of Justice environmental prosecutor who is also a member of the new White House advisory council. “But, unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a huge effort to turn it around this time.”

Time for a Hong Kong tusk force to combat illegal ivory trade (China)

Anna Beech, South China Morning Post
06 September, 2013

China is the largest consumer of ivory and its demand is bringing the African and Asian elephants to the point of extinction. According to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, all wild elephants will be wiped out in the next five to 10 years if poaching and habitat loss continue at the present rate.

Hong Kong has a vital role in all this. A report to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) says that Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Hong Kong accounted for 60 per cent of large-scale seizures since 2009, totalling 41.1 tonnes. As both a demand city and also one of the largest transit points where elephant parts are redirected elsewhere, usually mainland China, Hong Kong is at the forefront of this battle to halt the ivory trade.

What can be done to save the elephant? CITES was developed to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Yet despite a consensus about the threatened status of elephants, CITES has failed to prevent their wholesale slaughter or dampened the motivation for their trade.

Hong Kong has the requisite system in place to intercept illegally traded wildlife and, by law, the Customs and Excise Department is obliged to check that elephants and elephant parts are not illegally traded and handled through its ports. However, many would argue the scale of the operation to enforce these requirements is too small.

The nature of the ivory trade adds to the complexity in enforcement. Much like the illegal trade in narcotics, counterfeits and human trafficking, the global ivory trade is controlled by organised crime syndicates, often using similar trade routes. From the initial poaching of the elephant, transport by air or sea, to handling by dealers and sale in the destination country, the process is highly organised and requires a degree of complicity from corrupt park officials, the police and customs officers.

This makes catching illegal traders and prosecuting offenders extremely difficult, and fudged permit declarations hard to trace. Despite the interception of a number of big ivory shipments in recent years, enforcement in Hong Kong needs to be scaled up to more adequately address the problem.

Better surveillance and use of technology are crucial, and the establishment of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime should help key transit ports like Hong Kong co-operate and share intelligence with authorities from other demand, transit and source countries.

We need an equally heavy focus on the demand side. Environmental non-governmental organisations and campaign groups in Hong Kong and mainland China need to focus on communicating the realities and consequences of the ivory trade to consumers.

WildAid, a US-based NGO, has been running TV and social media campaigns in China to stem the trade in different species, including a prominent shark fin campaign with celebrities such as actor Jackie Chan. Ivory and shark fin consumption have similar connotations of prestige in Chinese society, and campaigns that help to demystify such purchases can make a big difference in driving down demand.