Tag Archives: Far East

I-Team links Chicago ivory smuggling to terrorists

abc7Chicago
May 06, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orphaned elephants and thousands of murdered wildlife rangers – victims of the brutal ivory trade

Tom Parry, DAily Mirror
Feb 06, 2014

Meet Quanza , an elephant orphan who was one year old when she saw her mother shot dead with an assault rifle before her tusks were hacked off by poachers.

Quanza’s two sisters went the same way and the young calf was spared only because she had no ivory worth wasting a bullet on.

She is one of the thousands of African elephants left orphaned as crime syndicates linked to terrorism sell prized “white gold” to the Far East.

But the violent massacre of defenceless creatures has a human cost too.

More than a thousand wildlife rangers have been murdered by poachers in 35 different countries over the last decade.

They include Jonathan Mancha, shot dead by gun-toting Somalis in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park where Quanza was born, leaving seven children between 15 and three without a father.

Jonathan, 37, had been chief ranger for 15 years when told a poaching gang was at large.

He was off duty but that didn’t stop him waving goodbye to his family, jumping in his Kenya Wildlife Service jeep and heading for the scene of the massacre.

That was the last time they saw him.

I meet the family in a tiny, stifling hovel down a rutted mud track. Old newspapers cover the wooden walls.

Older brother Tim, who has stepped in to support the children, tells me Jonathan was a hero.

Widow Alfonzina, 50, has to go outside as we begin to speak. She can’t bear to be reminded of what happened.

Tim recalls: “He was told by another ranger that men, he called them butchers, had killed a giraffe and an elephant.

“He said, ‘I’m not going home while poachers are slaughtering animals’.

“It was believed these were Somali poachers and I warned him that Somalis shoot to kill, not to scare.

“John and the other rangers had to go out into the bush on foot and they spotted the poachers. There were four of them, lying down.

“The rangers opened fire but the poachers retaliated and John was shot in the thigh. The bleeding was so bad that he died very quickly.

“No one could stop the bleeding. The poachers had better weapons.”

The killing of rangers on the poaching frontline is one issue David Cameron and African heads of state will discuss at a London conference on the £12billion illegal wildlife trade next week.

Gangs linked to al-Shabaab fire their assault rifles indiscriminately at rangers often armed only with wooden batons, then flee over the border to lawless Somalia.

In just one national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 183 park rangers were killed in 10 years.

In Amboseli, where 1,500 elephants roam freely on the dusty plains, watching 13ft-high bull elephants tear up grass with their trunks as their calves follow meekly behind is an awe-inspiring sight. It seems inconceivable anyone would kill them simply for their ivory.

Yet the vast empty space beneath Mount Kilimanjaro is too large to be patrolled adequately, and that makes the animals vulnerable.

In October 2012, Quanza was beside her mother Qumquat, the leader of the family, when poachers strafed their herd with AK47 bullets.

She was one of three elderly mothers killed, targeted for her long tusks which would fetch up to £80,000 in the Far East.

The poachers had lain in wait on the Amboseli herd’s migration route to the forests of Tanzania.

Rangers found Quanza standing next to her mother’s rotting carcass, the family’s only survivor.

It is stories like this that made Jonathan risk his life.

As I talk to his brother in the half-light of the mud-floored room, Jonathan’s children play in the overgrown yard outside.

They are too poor to afford school.

“I will always believe that he died a gallant soldier,” says Tim.

“He protected those elephants as though they were people. He was a very dedicated man who was passionate about wildlife.”

Happily for Quanza, her story has a happier ending.

Unable to survive alone, she was sedated and flown to an elephant orphanage in the Kenyan capital Nairobi run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Now tended by keeper Amos Lakalau, she spends her days with other orphans in woodland and sleeps in a guarded enclosure.

Once rehabilitated, she will be returned to the wild.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick, 80, who tells me Quanza is likely to have seen her mother’s face hacked apart with an axe to get at the tusks, says: “It takes two years for the gestation of a baby elephant compared to nine months for man.

“This means it takes a long time for herds to regenerate if the older adults are targeted.

“Our anti-snaring teams are always catching poachers and alerting the authorities but the next day they are out again.

“They are laughing at them.”

Dame Daphne, honoured in 2006 for her lifetime’s work, adds: “There is no doubt that ivory smuggling syndicates are involved in arms and drugs.

“It is undoubtedly linked to terrorism, to al-Shabaab. The syndicates have become extremely rich through killing elephants.

“Corruption has always been a problem. The poachers have the connections to bribe their way out of prison.”

Prices of more than £100 a kilo for ivory in Kenya mean big money for the poorest people.

“The temptation is enormous,” she says. “In Kenya there are no social security benefits so a man has to live by whatever means he can.

“The key lies in China. As long as there is a demand for ivory, elephants will be killed.

“Until the sale of ivory is banned completely there will be a problem, and China will be seen as the villain.

“In China ivory is seen as a status symbol. It is considered white gold.”

I realise the enormity of the challenge when I meet ranger Moses Sinkooi, 30, and his team of three in a simple hut up a rocky hill.

It’s a far outpost, a small dot on a vast horizon.

The team monitor 5,000 acres on foot and the odds are stacked enormously against them.

“Three elephants were shot dead near here,” Moses tells me.

“It’s hard. There are only four of us and many of them.”

But the dedicated rangers will not give up… because, until the politicans take decisive action , they are the last line of defence for the animals they care for.

Kenya: Magistrates Lenient On Wildlife Traffickers

BY PAULA KAHUMBU, 29 NOVEMBER 2013

WildlifeDirect has been studying the conclusion of wildlife crime cases at Nairobi’s Makadara court which handles all arrests made at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Already this year there have been at least 45 arrests.

Out of 45 arrests 84% were offenders of nationalities from the Far East (42% were Chinese, and 39% Vietnamese, another 11% Thai and 2% from Laos).

41 of the offenders, or 93%, had ivory. Six individuals had ivory and lion claws, two had snake skin. One Vietnamese man had 5 rhino horns.

Apart from one case where the file was incomplete, all of the offenders pleaded guilty.

Earlier this year WildlifeDirect began drawing attention to the release of offenders at Makadara court on petty fines when the current law actually allows for up to 10 years for offences against elephant and rhino or trafficking in their products.

Things seemed to turn around when Chinese woman Chen Bie Mei was arrested at JKIA with 6.8 kg of ivory packaged as macadamia nuts, she pleaded guilty and to her surprise was jailed for 2 years 7 months on August 15th.

Kenyans celebrated, they thought that things had changed. However, our follow-up research shows hat this was a rare occurrence. In fact, only 3 people have been sent to jail for crimes against elephants and rhino at Makadara court this year. That’s less than 7% – ie if you are caught with ivory or rhino horn at JKIA, the probability of going to jail is less than 1 in 12.

This is surprising given the economic impact of the slaughter of elephants and rhino, especially in light of the fact that the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, Cap 376 for 10 years in jail for offenses involving elephant, rhino and lion.

The magistrates have been more than lenient – in 7 cases where offenders pleaded guilty, magistrates discharged them and set them free!!

Sadly the situation is even wore than this, some files were missing from the court. For example, on 1st July KWS reported the arrest at JKIA of a Sudanese Achol Kuil Reng with ivory bangles, and American former colonel David McNevin Thoreau (known locally as Thor) with .8 kg of ivory. Mr. McNevin is a former colonel with the US Embassy. Both pleaded guilty and were released with fines. Neither file was available at Makadara court.

The fact that magistrates at the Makadara court are routinely releasing offenders from the Far East using this excuse means that Kenya could inadvertently be enabling an infamous global syndicate to operate with impunity. This flies in the face of the presidents commitment to fighting the poaching of elephants, and ignore the global alarm about the crisis.

For example, the American Government has recently advertised a 1 million dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of members of the Xaysavang Network. The Xaysavang Network is one of Asias’ largest wildlife -trafficking syndicates.

Particularly upseeting is the case of Vietnamese man Le Manh Cuong caught with 5 rhino horns while in transit at JKIA. The value of these horns is estimated at about Ksh 40 million. The offender had arrived from Maputo Mozambique where rhinos went extinct this year – they may have come from South Africa just across the border where 860 rhino have been poached already this year in an all time record for rhino poaching.

Our researcher was told by a court official that Cuong was released on a fine of Ksh 10,000. We have been unable to verify this because the file was missing.

In reference to this case the Chief Magistrate at the Makadara Court, said this to the researcher:

“The judges and magistrates in Kenya have to work with the available laws. They can’t use laws that have not been passed by parliament to pass judgments. We know the laws are very lenient but you people have to get the parliament to pass tougher laws and penalties. This way, something can be done for the elephants. Also the people who are been arrested at the airports are mostly on transit so the laws have to be specific on how to handle such traffickers.”

That the law is silent about seizures made in transit is notwithstanding, the magistrates are clearly willing to fine the offenders in transit but jail them.

With the much anticipated passing of the new wildlife law Kenyans must monitor wildlife crime cases to ensure that magistrates apply the full force of the existing or new laws to save our heritage.

This original article can be found in this link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201311290746.html