Tag Archives: Hong Kong

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

Hong Kong snubs calls to join Elephant Protection Initiative

South China Morning Post
29 November, 2014
Hong Kong officials have rejected requests by activist groups for the city to join an African-led conservation initiative for elephants that aims to shut ivory markets and stamp out the trade.
The groups, including the African Wildlife Foundation, Wild Life Risk and WildAid, wrote to the government this month asking it to join the Elephant Protection Initiative.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest transit hubs and markets for contraband ivory, consistently ranking fifth for the quantity seized since the global trade in ivory was banned in 1989.
The Elephant Protection Initiative, started in February, requires partner states and organisations to work towards closing domestic ivory markets and to put all stockpiles beyond economic use. Five African elephant range states are part of the initiative – Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania.
In a written response to the activist groups, Richard Chan Ping-kwong, senior endangered species protection officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said there was no need to adjust conservation measures already in place.
“While [Hong Kong] would not be able to join the ‘Elephant Protection Initiative’ … we will continue our unwavering efforts to implement the CITES provisions and maintain our enforcement momentum,” Chan wrote.
He was referring to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, an inter-governmental deal to protect plants and animals threatened by international trade. China is a signatory.
Hong Kong has banned all external trade of ivory but has a commercial licensing system to regulate the domestic sale of legal ivory. Chan said the system – which requires all who own commercial stocks of ivory in the city to obtain licences – was effective.
WildAid campaigner Alex Hofford expressed disappointment at the government’s decision. The city should “stand in solidarity with the five African elephant range states”, given its status as a huge ivory demand and transit point, he said.
“If Hong Kong could only join hands with them as the first non-range state to join the [initiative] … It could send a very strong signal to the city’s ivory traders that enough is enough, and that they should stop trading illegal ivory immediately,” he said.
Hofford said he suspected the government turned down the invitation because Beijing had voted against joining the initiative at July’s CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.
Activists will protest against the government’s decision outside the China Goods Centre, a major ivory goods retailer, in North Point at 11am today.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat earlier this year asked the initiative’s secretariat to urge the Hong Kong government to join the programme. “Hong Kong now seems eligible to join the Elephant Protection Initiative as the city is currently undertaking the destruction of its stockpile and moving towards domestic legislation,” she had said.
At the beginning of the year the government began destroying 28 tonnes of its 29.6-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory – the rest will be kept for scientific and teaching purposes. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said 11.4 tonnes had been destroyed and the incineration would continue until the middle of next year.

Hong Kong Retailers Say They’ll Stop Selling Ivory

Chester Yung, Wall Street Journal China

May 14, 2014

The window for buying ivory in Hong Kong is narrowing.

Three local sellers of everything from dinner wear to curios said on Wednesday that ivory was no longer welcome on their shelves. Wing On Department Store said it would stop selling ivory products in July, while Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium said it stopped selling ivory on May 7 and Chinese Arts & Crafts ( HK) Ltd. said it stopped in March.

The notices — given in letters from the three companies released on Wednesday by conservation groups — came just a day before Hong Kong plans to burn a 30-tonstockpile of seized elephant ivory.  Their moves “send a clear message that the consumption of ivory is rapidly becoming taboo in Hong Kong society,” said Alex Hofford, director of Hong Kong for Elephants, a local lobby group.

Representatives of the three companies attended a press conference on Wednesday to announce their new stance but left before taking questions. A call to Wing On wasn’t immediately returned. A Yue Hwa representative declined to comment further. A spokesman of Chinese Arts & Crafts said the ivory the company once sold was legal.

Nearly 100 elephants are killed every day for ivory trinkets — bracelets, statuettes and other decorative items sold illegally around the world, according to Hong Kong for Elephants. Wildlife experts estimate the African elephant population stand around 420,000 to 650,000 and could be wiped out in 10 to 15 years if nothing is done to ease the problem.

The groups argue that the slaughter of African elephants continues largely to meet the rising demand for tusks from newly affluent Chinese consumers.  The price of ivory in China was 15,000 yuan ($2,478) per kilogram in 2011, more than triple its price in 2006, according to data from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Wildlife conservation groups Wednesday urged the Hong Kong government turn its post-burning attention to the city’s 117.1 metric ton legal stockpile of ivory still in circulation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong for Elephants also called upon the city’ s government to legislate a permanent ban on ivory sales.

The Hong Kong government’s burning plans followed China’s, which in Januarypulverized six tons of illegal tusks.

In a recent official visit in Africa, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also vowed to combat poaching and ivory smuggling.

“Changes are afoot for the better for elephants. This is an extraordinary encouraging moment for the global effort to reduce ivory demand in Asia,”  said Iris Ho of Humane Society International, an organization that works on animal protection.

Elephants face extinction if Beijing does not ban ivory trade

Posted by Africa Geographic Editorial in News

Original source: Daily Mail

China needs to act now on the country’s illegal ivory trade to stop elephants becoming extinct, according to one conservationist.

ivory

China accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s trade in elephant tusks, with many bound for the country intercepted by customs officials in Hong Kong

Joyce Poole, co-director of Elephant Voices, said the creatures had experienced their worst year in history, with more than 7 per cent killed for their tusks in only a year.

She called for China to tackle the country’s appetite for ivory to save the remaining 400,000 elephants from extinction, and said the species would be extinct within a decade if poaching continued at the current rate.

Nearly 40,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year, Poole told the South China Morning Post.

‘It’s either China does something, or we lose the elephants. It’s that big,’ she said.

‘If we can’t even save the elephants – such an iconic keystone animal, important to the African habitat – then what hope do we have?’

Ivory is known as ‘white gold’ in China, she said, and is symbol of wealth and status.

A worldwide ban on ivory was imposed in 1989, with two sanctioned sales of stock to China and Japan in 1999 and 2007.

Hong Kong customs officials have seized at least 16 tonnes of ivory worth HK$87million (more than £7million) bound for China in the past five years – which would require the tusks of 1,800 elephants, the paper reported.

About 93 per cent of elephant carcasses have been found to have been killed by poachers, said Poole, who has researched elephants for 40 years.

One elephant would earn an African poacher the same as a typical annual salary, she told the newspaper.

‘I think many people don’t know that you can’t get the tusks [for ivory] without killing the elephants,’ Poole said.

‘[Beijing is] still in denial that they have any part to play. Ivory isn’t worth much to the [Chinese] economy, but losing the elephants will make a huge difference to African countries.’ – Daily Mail

This article can be found in the following link: http://africageographic.com/blog/elephants-face-extinction-if-beijing-does-not-ban-ivory-trade/

Belgium to Destroy Its Illegal Ivory Next Month

By Denise Chow, Staff Writer   |   March 26, 2014 03:57pm ET

Belgium is slated to destroy its entire stockpile of illegal ivory next month, joining the United States, China and several other countries in taking a stand against wildlife trafficking.

Earlier this month, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx announced plans to destroy all the illegal ivory seized by customs, on April 9. A special ceremony will be held to mark the occasion, with dignitaries from the Belgian government present.

Onkelinx made the announcement March 3 at an event celebrating Belgium’s involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]

“The Belgian government should be saluted for taking a firm and public stand on ivory trafficking and working to save the world’s threatened elephants,” Sonja Van Tichelen, European Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Rampant ivory poaching is causing precipitous declines in elephant populations, and the Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96elephants are killed each day by poachers in Africa. The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but the demand for ivory now is higher than ever, and lucrative black markets have emerged around the world.

“Not only are we losing an elephant every 15 minutes but the ivory trade is undercutting law and order in elephant range states and enriching organized crime syndicates — the slaughter of elephants must be stopped,” Van Tichelen said.

Belgium is set to join several other countries that recently destroyed their stockpiles of ivory. In February, France crushed more than 15,000 pieces of ivory, which included carvings, jewelry and other trinkets that were confiscated by customs agents.

In January, China, the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory, joined the effort by crushing 6 tons of its own ivory tusks and carved ornaments. The United States destroyed its ivory stockpile — collected from more than 25 years of confiscations and smuggling busts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — in November.

Officials in Hong Kong also announced their plan to burn more than 30 tons of elephant tusks and ivory products throughout the first half of this year. Recently, officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam announced they are considering crushing the country’s stores of rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger bone.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.livescience.com/44399-belgium-ivory-crush.html

Hong Kong craft shop staff secretly filmed advising customers how to smuggle ivory across border

Patrick Boehler, South China Morning Post
12 February, 2014

A shop assistant is filmed telling an undercover reporter how to take ivory out of Hong Kong.
Employees at two established craft stores in Hong Kong advised undercover reporters on how to
illegally smuggle ivory across borders, according to a British news report.

Raw video footage shared with the South China Morning Post shows employees of Chinese Arts
and Crafts in Admiralty and Yue Hwa on Nathan Road telling the British TV reporters, who posed
as customers, how to avoid customs when smuggling ivory across borders.

Ivory is “easy to take out, even if you go through the metal [detector], there’s no sign. You [just]
hide it somewhere”, one elderly salesman at Yue Hwa told the reporters from broadcaster ITN.
“Still, according to the book, it is illegal.”

While the undeclared import and export of ivory is illegal in Hong Kong, trade remains legal and
registered dealers can export ivory dating to before a global ban was imposed in 1989.

Selling ivory to customers who plan to illegally take it abroad goes against company policy, an
employee of Chinese Arts and Crafts (HK) Limited told the Post in a reaction to the report. Sales
staff were instructed to inform customers that they could not export ivory, the company said in
a statement.

The chain of four stores is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed China Resources Enterprise, which
takes “all accountable and practicable measures to minimise the impacts that our business
operations may have on the environment” according to its latest corporate social responsibility
report.

An employee of Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium Limited, who declined to be identified,
said the company would investigate the report. He stressed that the company has instructed its
employees not to sell to customers who intend to take ivory abroad.

The company’s invoices include a warning that ivory “usually cannot be brought into and out of
Hong Kong”, he said. The chain operates 18 stores in Hong Kong and 3 in Singapore, according
to its website.

Activists say the city has become a key transit point for the illicit trade from Africa to China.

By the end of last year, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department held 29.6 tonnes
of seized ivory stemming from more than 10,000 elephants. It plans to destroy the majority of
its stockpile in the near future in an effort to dissuade future trade.

The value of 1kg of ivory ranges from HK$8,000 to HK$15,000.

A senior sales consultant at Chinese Arts and Crafts told the ITN reporters about a customer
who bought two dozen chopsticks made of ivory and smuggled them to Singapore, hidden
among four dozen plastic chopsticks. “Two or three weeks later, she came back and wanted to
buy more,” he said, in the video footage dated from Monday.

Reporters were also shown an apple-shaped piece of ivory painted in red, which, he pointed out,
could pass customs. “You just […] go to customs, nobody knows this is ivory, they think this is
just plastic,” he said.

The salesperson also spoke of customers smuggling ivory in socks to North America, and about
how others avoid checks on the mainland side of the Shenzhen border by leveraging their
contacts at customs there. “[It] depends on the class of your friends,” the salesman said.

Referring to “blood ivory” chopsticks, made from tusks from freshly killed elephants, he was
candid about the questionable ethics of his trade. “You will think this is very cruel,” he said, “but
when you use it, [you will see that] this has much more value.” The chopsticks’ quality was
superior to those made of tusks taken from elephants that have been dead for some time, he
explained.

On Wednesday, sales staff at Chinese Arts and Crafts were hesitant to sell ivory. “If you want to
export it, you can choose a mammoth,” a salesperson told the Post, referring to a poster of the
mammoth that can be seen inside the shop. “No matter how small, it is still illegal to bring ivory
across the border,” she said.

A spokesperson for Chinese Arts and Crafts (HK) Ltd. told the Post: “As many customers may ask
about the export of ivory and we would definitely insist that ‘no import or export is allowed and
all transactions must be carried out in compliance with applicable laws’.

“In view of the above, Chinese Arts & Crafts (H.K.) Ltd. will look into the case and would remind
our sales force of the company policy and strengthen training and monitoring in order to
prevent causing misunderstanding to our honourable customers when selling ivory carving and
Mammoth carving products.”

In a joint statement, two Hong Kong conservation groups – the ACE Foundation and WildLifeRisk
– said the video clips show that businesses in the city are actively undermining conservation
efforts for commercial gain.

“The surfaced footage shows sales staff heavily promoting ‘blood ivory’ products,” the
statement read. The groups call on the SAR government to enact a permanent ban on ivory
sales.

The global ban on ivory trade has been suspended just twice so far in one-off sales, in 1999
and 2008. These have spurred demand for ivory among affluent Chinese, a group of 22 wildlife
advocacy groups said in a statement on Tuesday, calling for a comprehensive ban on the trade.

On Tuesday, the US revised its regulations on ivory, allowing ownership and gift giving, but
banning commercial sales.

Delegates from 50 countries have gathered in London for a conference this week to discuss
ways to stop the poaching of endangered animals.

African forest elephants could go extinct within a decade, according to study by 60 scientists
released last year. Over the past 10 years, the population has decreased by 62 per cent, the
study estimated.

Article at the following link:
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1426537/hong-kong-craft-shop-staff-
secretly-filmed-advising-customers-how

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.

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Hong Kong customs reports 40 pct more smuggling cases in 2013

Xinhua
January 30, 2014

Hong Kong’s customs authority on Wednesday revealed that it had detected a total of 282 smuggling cases in 2013, an increase of about 40 percent compared with 2012.

The commissioner of Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise, Clement Cheung, said that the total seizures of the smuggling cases worth 652 million HK dollars ($83.97 million), an increase of 90 percent.

Cheung said as smuggling between China’s mainland and Hong Kong had been on the rise and more complicated, the customs restructured its internal organs in early 2013 to improve effectiveness of joint operations with the mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies.

Since the implementation of export control on powdered formula for infants and young children in March 2013, about 4,300 cases have been detected with more than 33,000 kg of powdered formula seized at various customs control points as of the end of last year.

Cheung said that the department would continue to liaise closely with its mainland counterpart and spare no efforts in combating parallel trading activities.

For anti-narcotics work, the authority detected a total of 518 cases and seized 445 kg of various kinds of drugs, 75 percent of which were detected at Hong Kong International Airport. As for the cases involving controlled chemicals used for drug manufacturing, the number of cases increased two times over 2012 to 33, the majority of which were related to pseudoephedrine.

Cheung said the department would set up a dedicated team to strengthen external liaison and intelligence exchange for maintaining high enforcement effectiveness.

On endangered species, 192 cases involving ivory tusks and ivory products, rhino horns, leopard skin, pangolin carcass and scale and dried sea horses were detected in 2013.

The quantity and value of ivory tusks seized in 2013 increased by 43 percent and 115 percent respectively compared with those of 2012, which proves Hong Kong’s dedication and perseverance in shouldering its international obligations, Cheung said.

On intellectual property rights protection, the number of infringement cases detected increased by 30 percent to 720, of which 88 percent involved counterfeit goods.

Cheung said with the growing popularity of the Internet and rapid growth of e-commerce, the cases of online sale of counterfeit goods and that of delivering infringing goods by courier services surged by 1.7 and 1.5 times respectively.

The department has strengthened communication with Hong Kong Post and is liaising with the logistics industry to address the issue at source, he said.

Deputy commissioner of the department, Luke Au Yeung, said that the department would set up a dedicated team to foster liaison and intelligence exchange with the mainland and overseas enforcement agencies to combat transnational drugs trafficking.

Enforcement at source would be able to curb the inflow of drugs to Hong Kong or other destinations via Hong Kong, further enhancing the department’s drug detection capability at the Hong Kong International Airport and land boundary control points, he said.

Reporting on the Ivory Trade in Angola: Will the Nation’s Entry to CITES Make a Difference?

By Elena Bersacola and Magdalena Svensson, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic

January 30, 2014

Destruction of stocks of illegal ivory has been prevalent news in the media lately.

Most recently it was Hong Kong announcing the intention to crush 28 tons of its illegally smuggled ivory to show support for the fight against wildlife trafficking.

This comes soon after China, the United States, and the Philippines held similar ivory destruction ceremonies, each eliminating between five and six tons.

The first conviction of its kind in China occurred in May 2013, when a court sentenced a licensed dealer to 15 years in prison after he was found importing and selling illegal ivory products.

While this is encouraging news and shows promising signs from authorities, especially in China, the world’s largest ivory importer, it is far from the full story.

Just a week after the ivory destruction ceremony in China, a report on the ivory trade near the Chinese border in Myanmar was made public by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. The TRAFFIC team discovered large quantities of mainly African ivory on sale in the market town of Mong La. The team, including our colleague Professor Vincent Nijman, found some 3,300 pieces of carved ivory and close to 50 raw ivory elephant tusks.

We made similar observations in September last year, when we traveled to Angola as part of a team from the UK-based Nocturnal Primate Research Group to survey nocturnal primates and other mammals in the northwest.

When moving between field sites, we observed a thriving bush meat trade. These observations prompted us to look more closely at the Angolan wildlife trade. We therefore decided to visit one of the largest craft markets in Luanda, the Benfica Mercado do Artesano.

Angola’s Benfica Market

Walking up to Benfica Mercado do Artesano, it was hard to imagine the buzzing commerce that occurred under the rusty tin roof. What we saw first, just outside the market, were several leopard skins hanging off the beams, right next to the busy road. The fact that a protected species was on display so visibly was a gruesome precursor of what was inside the market.

When we entered the market, we saw many wooden sculptures, paintings, colorful fabrics, and other craft products.

We soon realized that there were also a great amount of animal products for sale. These included marine turtle shells, many decorated with bright paintings or carvings, animal skins, teeth, and horns, and even the odd parrots and a blue monkey.

Ivory, Ivory, and More Ivory

Most shocking in Benfica was the staggering amount of ivory on offer, confined to a section containing some 30 tables. Elephant ivory was the most abundant product on sale, with a wide variety of items, including 50 raw tusks, 162 carved sculptures in all shapes and sizes, as well as 2,000 or more small objects. The ivory carvings took all forms, from large amounts of chopsticks and necklaces to bangles, name seals, rings, combs, knives, and earrings.

Prior our visit, there had been one report on the ivory trade in Angola, conducted by T. Milliken and colleagues in 2006 (“No Peace for Elephants,” TRAFFIC, Cambridge).

Like us, they found a significant and open ivory trade at the Benfica market, but ivory was also displayed for sale in several other locations in Luanda, including at five three and four star hotels and several shops, clearly targeting foreign buyers.

Where Is This Ivory Coming From?

In Angola, forest elephants are found only in Cabinda, an enclave situated between Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Savanna elephants are present in the northeast and southern regions, as well as in Kissama National Park just south of Luanda, where the population is estimated at 86 individuals, including translocated elephants from Botswana.

In 2007, the IUCN Species Survival Commission estimated the population of savanna elephants in Angola at about 1,700 individuals. But this estimate came from only 5 percent of the total possible range in Angola. Considering that at present we know virtually nothing about the elephant population in most of the animals’ range in Angola, the impacts of the illegal ivory trade could be of catastrophic dimensions.

Oddly, the size and shape of the tusks in Benfica suggest that most of that ivory was likely to have originated from forest elephants rather than the surrounding savanna elephants.

In their report, Milliken and his colleagues reasoned convincingly that the source was probably the northern neighboring countries of Congo and DRC.

Forest elephants throughout Central Africa have suffered a serious decline during the past decade, with the most catastrophic drop occurring in DRC (Maisels et al 2013).

DRC represents the most extensive forested area in Central Africa, and it was formerly the country with the largest number of forest elephants. Now forest elephants in DRC are found at very low densities in merely 5 percent of the total forested area.

If the Benfica ivory did indeed come from DRC, Angola would be directly contributing to the imminent extinction of the remaining forest elephant populations in DRC.

And Where Does the Ivory Go?

What was rather evident when we looked through the ivory in Benfica was that much of it was intended for an Asian clientele. There were many Buddha and dragon figurines, chopsticks, and typical Asian name seals. We also saw objects with Asian-like carvings, although they weren’t executed with the particular details typically seen in Asian sculpture.

In August last year more than a hundred kilograms (268 pounds) of ivory obtained in Angola were confiscated in Bangkok. That ivory appeared to be destined for Cambodia.

The Angolan illicit ivory trade routes are therefore likely to implicate a large number of countries, extending from the Congo Basin as far as East and Southeast Asia.

Will Angola’s Membership In CITES Help?

At the time of our survey, Angola was the only elephant range country that was not a signatory to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

The country did agree to partake in ETIS, the Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks the global trade in ivory, partly by analyzing seizure data from participating countries. Angola, however, has never submitted any reports to ETIS, suggesting that law enforcement with respect to ivory trade is absent.

In October 2013, one month after our visit, it was announced that Angola would become the 179th party to join CITES, in force at the end of December 2013.

Although this entry to CITES gives a glimmer of hope, it is hard to predict the real effect it will have on the national and international ivory trade.

At present Luanda represents a key intercontinental transit location for large-scale illegal ivory trading.

The Angolan authorities are now urged to overturn Luanda’s current role in the illicit trade by increasing law enforcement significantly and reporting fraudulent activities to international bodies. Specific controls at the airports could also play a great part in discouraging people from buying ivory and could raise awareness about the severity of this problem.

With a background in art and an MSc in Primate Conservation, Elena Bersacola is currently carrying out research on primates and ungulates in Africa and Southeast Asia. Magdalena Svensson has an MSc in Primate Conservation and has for the last seven years studied nocturnal mammals in Africa and the Neotropics.

Hong Kong a step closer to destroying ivory stockpile

Lana Lam, South China Morning Post
12 January, 2014

Hong Kong could be about to take the lead in the fight against elephant poachers and the criminal networks behind the illicit ivory trade by destroying its huge stockpile of the contraband, said the regional head of an influential wildlife conservation group.

The mainland’s decision last week to crush six tonnes of seized ivory may give Hong Kong the momentum it needs to follow through on its own proposal from two years ago to incinerate its 33-tonne stockpile, said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“Hong Kong has a very, very big role to play because if they destroy all 33 tonnes of ivory in its stockpile, it will be unprecedented, as that amount has never been destroyed,” Gabriel said.

Demand for ivory has soared in recent years, driven mainly by buyers in Asia, and mainland China in particular. It has led to a devastation of elephant populations not seen since the 1990s, when the problem prompted international action.

Images of ivory being destroyed in Dongguan last Monday sent ripples through the offices of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong.

The department’s endangered species advisory committee is responsible for deciding what to do with the stockpile, said Gabriel, who on Friday discussed the issue with two officials.

“They want to destroy the stockpile but the final decision has to come from the committee,” she said. “They have to wait for them to meet, but we have collectively felt this momentum which was not there a year ago, so there is optimism.”

In 2012, the committee rejected a proposal from the department to destroy the city’s stockpile of seized ivory, arguing that it would be wasteful and the ivory should instead be kept for educational purposes.

The department accepted the committee’s recommendation last February, but committee chairman Paul Shin Kam-shing has previously said that he would be happy to return to the issue.

Gabriel said that time had come. “The momentum generated around the world is good and it sends a message to people everywhere that if they had any misgivings that destroying ivory is a waste, now they understand. Ivory is not art, it’s a life; that message is strong.”

She added: “It also takes the burden from having all this contraband which needs to be secured, stored and guarded because of its potential high value.”

The IFAW was part of an alliance of non-governmental organisations that oversaw the Dongguan action and is also working with the French government to destroy stockpiles.

An AFCD spokeswoman said it exchanged views on various conservation issues with NGOs from time to time. It was currently “reviewing the effectiveness of existing disposal measures”, which include donations to schools and universities.