Tag Archives: IUCN

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.

GLOBAL ILLEGAL IVORY TRADE INTENSIFIES

African countries want to join forces to tackle poaching

28/11/2013

For the African elephant, 2013 can be described as a bad year. Due to the recent surge in ivory prices (running to thousands of dollars per kg), it has resulted to the death of several thousands of elephants which have been killed by poachers. Just last month, in a wildlife conservation area in Zimbabwe, over 300 elephants were killed after they were poisoned by poachers using cyanide.

Official figures of elephants that have been killed by poachers in the year 2013 are still in preparation, but researchers have recently said that this year is most likely a record breaking year when it comes to the number of elephants that have been killed. According to data provided by England’s TRAFFIC NGO, which was supervised by the Cambridge recently, it is estimated that about 38 tons ivory have been seized so far. Figures from the Kenyan headquarters of “Save The Elephants”, a wildlife protection organization also indicate the same numbers. However, the researchers point out that the figures of the seized ivory need to be treated carefully, because there could be an overestimation in the numbers of ivory seized as well as the fact that there are many unreported cases of illegal ivory trade.

One elephant can produce about 5 kg of ivory, and also the fact that researchers estimate that only 10% of all the ivory has been seized. This indicates that the situation of the elephants is indeed bleak. Holly Dublin, the Chair of IUCN’s African Elephants Specialists says: “I really do not think that the situation will get better this year.”

According to official figures, in the year 2011, a total of 46.5 tons of ivory were confiscated. Samuel Wasser, director of Conservation Biology Center, University of Washington in Seattle, USA, said that the level of illegal hunting reached its peak in 2012, but 2013 could be even more severe. Considering the number of ivory, Wasser estimated that the number of elephants killed in 2011 is 50,000, while the numbers of ivory confiscated in the next 2 years was essentially flat. By inference, TRAFFIC and “Save The Elephants” estimate that the number of elephants killed each year ranges from 25,000 elephants to 35,000 elephants.

Wasser says, “These towns may have some discrepancies but the truth is based on the number of ivory seized recently, the elephants are been killed at a unprecedented speed.

In the past year, there has been an increasing number of political forces conducting joint efforts to curb illegal hunting. These criminal activities are continuously linked with the black market and terrorist groups. Next week, with the assistance of the IUCN, heads of state, scientists and ministers will meet in Gaberone, Botswana to discuss on measures against illegal hunting of elephants, including the establishment of a National Working Group, to use more stringent legal ivory trade sanctions as well as greater use of the military to deal with poachers who are using heavy machinery.

More political forces will join these efforts in the future. The Secretary General of CITES John Scanlon says “We must move quickly in the right direction.”

In a meeting held in Bangkok Thailand in March this year, representatives to the CITES parties agreed to take measures to combat illegal poaching, including inhibition of ivory demand through public education, use gene technology to track seized ivory and so on.

Ivory is a white hard object, whose main component is dentin and is similar to a bone. Ivory is one very expensive raw material, which is oftenly, processed into works of ivory, jewellery or crafts. Additionally, it is processed into billiard balls and piano keys. In order to protect the animals, ivory is a product that has been banned or been boycotted by many countries worldwide.

 

The original article of this link is: http://news.sciencenet.cn/htmlnews/2013/11/285623.shtm

 

Nations fight back on ivory

Daniel Cressey, Nature News

26 November 2013

It has been a bad year for Africa’s elephants. Thousands have been killed as poachers rush to cash in on soaring ivory prices, which have reached hundreds of dollars per kilogram. The cyanide poisoning of up to 300 animals at watering holes in a game park in Zimbabwe last month served as a particularly unpleasant reminder of the lengths to which poachers are willing to go.

Official numbers for elephant killings in 2013 are still being prepared, but researchers told Nature that it is likely to be a near-record year. Across the world, almost 30 tonnes of ivory have been seized, according to events detailed in news reports and collated by TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organization in Cambridge, UK, that monitors trade in wildlife. And figures for ivory hauls in media reports collected each month by conservation group Save the Elephants, headquartered in Nairobi, add up to a similar number (see go.nature.com/4xyeln). Both numbers, however, should be regarded with caution because the size of seizures can be overestimated, and many go unreported. With each tusk providing about 5 kg of ivory, and some researchers estimating that seizures account for as little as 10% of all ivory collected, the numbers paint a bleak picture.

“I certainly don’t think anything’s got better this year,” says Holly Dublin, chair of the elephant specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Official numbers are available for 2011, when a record 46.5 tonnes of ivory was seized (see ‘Tusk totals’). Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, says that poaching levels were probably higher in 2012, and that 2013 could be higher again. He estimates that around 50,000 elephants were killed in 2011, given the amount of ivory seized, and that the numbers in the two years since were similar. Figures from TRAFFIC and Save the Elephants suggest that between 25,000 and 35,000 of the animals are killed each year.

“Those numbers may be off by some margin. But based on the number of recent seizures, the elephants are being killed at their highest rate yet,” says Wasser, who estimates from news reports that 38 tonnes of ivory have been seized this year.

The past year has seen an escalation of political efforts to curb poaching, which is increasingly being linked to large criminal syndicates and even terrorist groups. The latest such effort takes place next week in Gaborone, Botswana, under the auspices of the IUCN. African heads of state, ministers and scientists will discuss measures to fight poaching including national task forces, tougher legal action against ivory traffickers and greater use of the military against heavily armed poachers.

“We’re seeing more political momentum build up,” says John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “That movement needs to be faster, but things are moving in the right direction.”

At a meeting in Bangkok in March, representatives from CITES signatory countries agreed to take steps to fight the poaching scourge. These include using public-awareness campaigns to curb demand for ivory and increased forensic tracing of seized ivory using genetic techniques.

Some positive outcomes from the CITES meeting are already being seen on the ground, says Wasser, who uses DNA analysis of seized tusks to try to trace the origin of illegal ivory by matching genetic variations across Africa. The decisions at the meeting have made “a huge difference” to the willingness of countries to provide samples, he says. Using the samples, he expects to be able to pinpoint the major hotspots of poaching, eventually enabling intensive law enforcement in those regions.

Increased political attention may already be having an effect. Nations that drive the demand for ivory are stepping up prevention efforts. Scanlon says that China, for example, is now prosecuting more people for ivory offences than in the past. And the United States — which in a show of intent earlier this month publicly crushed 6 tonnes of ivory seized at its borders since 1989, when the international ban on ivory trading was introduced — has this year set up a task force to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Closer to the front line, George Wittemyer of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a conservation biologist who conducts research at the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, says that the year started with the worst poaching levels ever seen there. But he adds that killings have fallen since, driven in part by efforts to engage the local community.

“I find it relieving to see the level at which the issue is being talked about,” Wittemyer says. “There are a lot of heads of state in Africa who are taking this seriously.”

Death in China, one dollar in Africa – the irony of ivory poaching penalties

SHARON VAN WYK, Daily Maverick

23 Oct 2013

In China the penalty for poaching an elephant is death. In Africa, it is considerably less. The irony in this is that the global trade in illegal ivory is driven, for the most part, by China, some of whose citizens are helping to lay waste to Africa’s elephants, largely without fear of retribution. By SHARON VAN WYK.

Earlier this year a Chinese smuggler, apprehended in Kenya whilst in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined a mere US$350 for the haul of 439 pieces of ivory found in his possession before being released. That’s less than US$1 apiece.

This one incident illustrates perhaps the biggest challenge facing those battling to save Africa’s elephant population from almost certain extinction at the hands of ivory poachers – outdated, and in some cases woefully inadequate legislation and penalties which, rather than acting as a deterrent, actually encourage poaching.

Add to the mix corruption and political malfeasance at virtually every level of government, and the word extinction looms larger than ever, unless swift action is taken by African countries to improve the laws supposedly protecting their wildlife. Justice is most certainly not on the side of elephants.

In Kenya the current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (around US$470), and a possible jail term of up to 10 years. With a black market price of as much as US$7,000 per kilogram, it is infinitely affordable to get caught with your fingers in the ivory jar. Which is what happened to four Chinese citizens who were apprehended attempting to smuggle thousands of dollars’ worth of ivory out of Kenya. Their punishment? Each was allowed to pay a US$340 fine and then go free.

Kenya is far from alone. In neighbouring Uganda, poachers are punished on the same level as petty criminals with small fines or suspended sentences. In Gabon a woeful maximum one-year sentence or approximately US$40,000 awaits convicted poachers, including repeat offenders, while wildlife traffickers in the Republic of Congo face up to five years in jail and risk having their sentence doubled if they are found to be repeat offenders.

Court punishment for a convicted elephant poacher in Tanzania can be as little as US$13. Tanzanian officials have said that in 670 cases tried between March 2012 and March this year, fines totalling US$109,377 were incurred. That’s an average of just under US$164 per case.

The recent cyanide poisoning of waterholes in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by ivory poachers, which claimed the lives of more than 90 elephants, was met with surprisingly swift retribution by the country’s wildlife authorities, with three poachers each sentenced to 16 years behind bars and a collective massive fine of US$800,000.

However, recent reports from the Zimbabwe press suggest that the reason for this unusually harsh (for Zimbabwe) punishment is to deflect attention away from possible high-ranking government involvement in the killing.

The question, then, is whether it is possible to get it right in the fight against the ivory trade. In this respect African states can take their lead from Botswana, where effective anti-poaching is supported by strong leadership and political will from President Ian Khama and an effective judiciary, backed by tough wildlife legislation and strong involvement of the military. Indeed, the Botswana Defense Force is deployed to protect not just elephants, but all of the country’s wildlife.

Elephant range states are being urged to give similar unequivocal commitment to the implementation of necessary legislation, law enforcement and deterrent penalties needed to stem elephant poaching and the related illegal trade and trafficking in ivory at the forthcoming International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Government of Botswana Emergency African Elephant Summit which is being held in Botswana’s capital of Gaborone from December 2-4 this year.

The Summit is being hosted by President Khama and will bring together heads of state and representatives from both African elephant range states and key ivory trade transit and destination countries. DM

Sharon van Wyk is an award-winning conservation writer and wildlife documentary maker and works with the Conservation Action Trust – www.conservationaction.co.za