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Tag Archives: ivory
Africa: New Report Commissioned By Born Free Usa Confirms Organized Crime, Government Corruption, and Militia Links to Elephant Poaching and the Ivory Trade
21 April 2014
Washington, DC — “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” reveals similarity between the illicit networks that enable terrorism, weapons, human trafficking, and ivory commercialization.
Today, Born Free USA and C4ADS released “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa,” one of the most shocking, rigorous and in-depth analyses of elephant poaching and the ivory trade to date. The report examines links to violent militias, organized crime, government corruption, and ivory trade to Asia. It further exposes the widespread transnational illicit participants deeply interwoven into the system that moves ivory. The full report is available at www.bornfreeusa.org/ivoryscurse.
According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, a global leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, “The elephant poaching crisis has reached historic levels and, shockingly, some elephant populations face extinction in my lifetime. Born Free USA sought to understand in a more robust way how destabilizing and corrupt individuals, as well as organized crime networks across Africa, place human security at risk and traffic in elephant ivory from slaughtered animals. Clearly, Ivory’s Curse shows that defense, military, national security, and foreign policy leaders must play a role in stopping the elephant massacre across the continent.”
Roberts explains, “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent. Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.”
Varun Vira, Senior Analyst at C4ADS and co-author of the report commissioned by Born Free USA, said, “Ivory is a conflict, crime, and corruption issue with severe human impact. It has been a conflict resource for decades, just like blood diamonds or coltan in Central Africa, only without the same level of global attention.”
One elephant yields about 20 pounds of ivory worth approximately $30,000. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 may have been killed in 2013. At this rate, the ivory trade could be worth one billion dollars annually, and will likely increase with the escalating retail price of ivory.
Ivory’s Curse provides detailed regional case studies on the ivory trade, including:
Vira explains, “Subsistence elephant poaching barely exists anymore. Impoverished locals may pull the triggers but they source to organized crime, which controls the scale of the poaching and nearly all profits. Saving both elephants and local communities will require moving from the bush into the world of global illicit networks in order to target transnational criminal profits. There are infinitely more young Africans willing to shoulder guns and kill elephants than there are containers full of ivory.”
Roberts concludes, “No one should ever buy ivory, but they should also contribute resources to organizations like Born Free USA that help equip rangers on the ground, and should pressure political leaders to take action to end the corruption. As long as supply chains remain unbroken and consumer demand remains insatiable, poachers will ply their deadly trade to supply the marketplace.”
Cameras caught the distraught ranger, rifle in hand, crying as he stood desolately over the animal, which still had blood oozing from its wounds.
“It was a mixture of emotion and bitterness,” explains Wanyama, 24. “At that moment I would not have spared any of the poachers. I almost lost my mind at the sight of the carcass of the animal, which was everybody’s favourite at the park.”
He adds that he had developed a close attachment to the animal during the period he had served at the park.
For Wanyama, painful memories of the friendly animal was the last straw.
The ruthlessness of the poaching cartels and the number of KWS officers whose lives have been cut short by the ruthless gangs had made him a bitter and worried man, hence his sadness at the death of the elephant that Sundaymorning.
“Looking at the carcass of such an animal is like waking up in the morning and finding your boss dead and realising that in a short time you face the possibility of being jobless.
The government has given me a gun and houses me to look after the animals. I felt let down,” he explains.
That morning, as Wayama and his colleagues patrolled the forest, they heard gunshots.
They headed in the direction from which the shots had come and soon came across the animal that had been killed. They interrupted the poachers because the tusks had only been partially removed.
“The poachers must have been on the alert and fled when they heard us approaching,” he says.
The fleeing poachers left food, assorted pairs of shoes, and a tent, an indication that they were so sure they would not be detected that they had camped in the forest.
The slain elephant was the biggest of the herd and, according to Wanyama, very friendly to tourists.
“He was not hostile and many people loved him because, instead of running away the way the others did, he would move closer, causing great excitement among the visitors,” he recalls.
Although some of Wanyama’s friends viewed his reaction as extreme and teased him about mourning an elephant, recent statistics on the poaching of elephants and rhinos in the country is no laughing matter.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acting director William Kiprono says that in the past three months, poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants. Last year, the country lost 59 rhinos and 302 elephants to poaching, while in 2012 it lost 30 rhinos and 384 elephants to the criminal gangs.
“We attribute the problem of poaching in Kenya and the rest of Africa to growing demand and the high prices being offered for rhino horn and elephant tusks in Far East countries as the ready market continues to spur the illegal sale of ivory and rhino horns,” he says, adding that poachers not only use sophisticated weapons, but have resorted to silent methods, which makes it difficult for rangers on patrol to detect their presence.
In parks such as Lake Nakuru, the rising water levels have caused grazing land for rhinos to shrink, forcing the animals to move to areas near the edge of the park, making them easy targets for poachers.
Besides, Lake Nakuru is located in a cosmopolitan area, so poachers easily sneak into the park, kill rhinos, and disappear into the town undetected.
Kiprono says KWS has adopted a multifaceted strategy that brings together law enforcement agencies, the Judiciary, and the community in an attempt to curb the menace.
“We have increased collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both in the region and internationally, to ensure more robust intelligence gathering. The collaboration includes follow-ups on suspected poaching gangs, surveillance at all ports of entry and exit, and overt operations in wildlife areas,” he offers.
His views are echoed by Mr Aggrey Maumo, the KWS assistant director in charge of the Mountain conservation area, who says that poaching of rhinos and elephants is conducted by a complex web and that what they are fighting is just the low end of it.
“The main movers and shakers of this trade are very powerful people who have created very complex syndicates. It will take more than our efforts alone to crack it. All Kenyans must work with the authorities if we are to succeed,” he says.
According to a report released by the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) last month, the high prices that ivory fetches continue to drive the trade.
The reports reads in part: “With ivory’s market value reaching $900 (Sh77,400) per kilogramme in China, the financial stakes are high, and it appears sponsors are adopting bold new tactics to satisfy demand.”
“One criminal syndicate will gather a poaching gang together and that poaching gang will be assigned instructions to kill a specific herd of elephants or to provide a specific amount of ivory,” says Mr William Clark of Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme.
“We are alive to the fact that wildlife, particularly rhinos and elephants, are increasingly becoming vulnerable because of high demand for their horns and ivory respectively. Poaching of this prized wildlife has become more organised, sophisticated, and international in nature,” Clark adds.
Despite the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which stipulates tough punishment for those convicted of poaching — including life imprisonment or a Sh20 million fine — the trade continues unabated.
Yet for people like Wanyama, the loss of every animal counts. He says the long and lonely hours spent in the wild with the animals not only make the rangers attached to them, it also allows the officers to know the individual character of some of the animals.
“Their behaviour is very similar to that of human beings; some are reserved while others are hostile. Yet others can decide to be naughty, always looking for the slightest opportunity to cause destruction,” he enthuses.
The ranger believes that his destiny with wild animals was determined when his parents named him Wanyama, which is Kiswahili for animals.
“My parents might have had cultural reasons for naming me Wanyama, but throughout school, fellow students often referred to me as a wild animal. Those are the things that shaped my destiny,” he says, gazing into the thick bushes.
He explains that in his Bukusu community, the name Wanyama is given to a boy born during the circumcision period, a time during which people make merry and, therefore, most homes with initiates have meat in plenty.
And when KWS advertised for recruits, he applied and was successful. After training, he was posted to the Aberdare National Park, where he has served for three years.
“When I was employed, I knew that my responsibilities were to sustain, manage, and conserve wildlife. When one of your biggest animals dies, and if they continue dying at this rate, KWS will have no role in this country as there will no longer be any wildlife to conserve,” he laments.
He acknowledges that looking after the animals is an enormous task.
The rugged terrain, poachers who are getting more sophisticated by the day, and inadequate staff are some of the challenges Wanyama and his colleagues have to contend with daily. It is a job to which he gives his all irrespective of the weather, so it pains him when poachers kill an animal.
Wanyama says he has developed such a strong attachment to the wildlife that he would not trade his gun for any other profession. At home he keeps cows, goats, and doves.
Indeed, Maumo says that some of the rangers get so attached to the wildlife that when an animal is killed, they get deeply affected.
“We are aware that the officers work under difficult conditions but encourage them and try as much as possible to address the issues that arise from time to time.
“But wildlife conservation is not the responsibility of KWS alone. We are engaging with the neighbouring villages to help us fight the poachers,” he says.
Maumo says poachers have created an elaborate syndicate that calls for a multi-pronged approach to deal with.
It is notable that even as he talks of the involvement of criminal gangs, Kiprono acknowledges that 17 KWS employees have been fired over poaching, while 13 others were retired in the public interest, an indication that some insiders could be collaborating with the poachers.
And as long as that continues, poaching will remain a hard nut to crack.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Number of rhinos killed since January
Number of elephants killed since January
Number of elephants killed in 2013
Cost per kilogramme of ivory in China. 3.5 tonnes of ivory were seized in Mombasa last year!
Elephants are known to be highly social and intelligent creatures.
And now there is evidence that they engage in something like a group hug when a fellow elephant is in distress.
Mr Joshua Plotnick, who leads a conservation and education group called Think Elephants and teaches conservation at Mahidol University in Thailand, studied elephants at a park in Chiang Rai Province in Thailand to look for consolation behaviour.
As defined by Franz de Waal, Plotnick’s PhD adviser at Emory University, “Consolation behaviour involves bystanders responding in a reassuring way to an animal that is in emotional distress because of a conflict with another member of the group.”
“We’re pretty confident it’s relatively rare in animals,” Plotnick said in an interview, adding that there was evidence of the behaviour in apes, wolves, and some birds, and that there had been anecdotal reports of such behaviour in dolphins and elephants.
Elephants clearly have strong emotional connections to other elephants and are highly intelligent, so it made sense to think that they might console one another. To find out, Plotnick observed 26 elephants in six groups at a managed park.
When one elephant was disturbed, he said, other elephants gathered around it. They made high-pitched sounds and touched the distressed elephant, trunk to mouth or trunk to genitals, which are reassuring gestures among elephants.
Plotnick said that since he could not always observe the original source of the distress, he could not say that the behaviour met the narrow definition of consolation as it was not clear whether it followed conflict.
The elephants might have been scared by a person, dog, or, in some cases, a noise that humans could not hear. But he said that in every other way, the behaviour showed that they were acting to reassure the elephant that was upset.
Zhang Ke, First Financial Daily
Jan 7th, 2014
Both criticism and praise have been received after it was reported. A number of international animal protection groups believe that, this action demonstrates the Chinese government’s unshakeable resolution to crack down illicit ivory trade and to help reduce and stop illicit wildlife trade, to the whole world, including African countries,
However, opponents said that those tusk were so valuable that shouldn’t have been destroyed. As the tusk getting rarer, the price is getting higher; as a result, more people would take the risk and break the law, being driven by the desires making them less sympathetic. Auction, as another, is also suggested, whose proceeds could be used for animal protection or education. Building a museum, exhibiting those confiscated ivory, to shows the dirty smuggling deals to the public can be another possible solution.
Do we have to destroy them?
In fact, this problem has been encountered in every country that destroyed illegal ivory before. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) organized an ivory destruction last year, crushed its entire stockpile of illegal ivory tusks and carvings, which had been confiscated in past 25 years.
At that time, FWS had made remark that, from the point of economic theory, in general, reducing in supply increases demand. So with all these ivory destroyed, it may lead to the rise of the price, which would provoke the poachers even more to continue their slaughter. What would have happen, if FWS had sold these stocks to the market in some legal ways, instead of destroying them?
Gavin Shire, a specialist in public affairs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says: “basic supply-and-demand analyses are not sufficiently applicable here.” He explains that the FWS itself is not permitted to sell the ivory products in any way; The reason why the department stockpiled the tusk, was that it was being sold illegally. If it’s illegal for poachers and dealers, then it can’t be legal for the government departments and agencies, either. Zero tolerance means no tolerance at all. As to the supply-demand theory, Shire says that whether this particular portion is put into the market or not, it wouldn’t make any economic difference, because the amount is so small. But crushing this stockpile in front of a group of politicians, environmentalists, media and the public will help stimulate conversations about the true value of the ivory.
Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia chief representative, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: “The destruction of the confiscated ivory can prevent the ivory getting back the market again, which would stimulate poaching in return. More importantly, from poaching to purchasing, every country in this chain is playing a part in destroying ivory publicly. This situation demonstrates to all the consumers that the purchase of ivory is immoral and wrong. ”
Reports from the First Financial Daily nowadays, for the Chinese government, especially the China Forestry Bureau, the most important is to announce a clear attitude and hold a firm stand, particularly to give clear definition of the preservation and utilization .
In fact, in terms of preservation and utilization, the ambiguous attitude the bureau holding for a long time has been very controversial. Issues on hunting rights, live bear bile, and ivory smuggling, lasting for a long time, reconfirming government’s consistent ambiguous attitude—to utilize and protect the forest product.
Taking ivory issue for example, despite the fact that the bureau admits that it’s brutal and immoral to get elephants’ tusk, the manufacturing of ivory production is still of legit existence, claiming which as a way to protect traditional carving technology.
This questionable position leads to the public’s misunderstanding of illegality of the ivory trades and makes it extreme difficult to define whether a particular ivory trade is legal or not. Protectors said that because the government, in a few years, will purchase and distribute the ivory back to the market in several groups, the price of ivory will be raised and, thus, stimulate the demand of illegal production.
However, during the activities of destruction of the ivory, Zhao Shucong, the director of the China Forestry Bureau, explained that this activity has declared Chinese government’s consistent position of opposing and fighting against the illicit trade of the wild animal, which will help to raise the public’s awareness of protecting the wild animals and reinforce the responsibility of related law-enforcement agencies.
In the process of combating the illicit trade in wild animal, the public awareness does matter, but, as an expert advocates, severe measures must be taken to contain the situation .In China, the most effective way is to illegalize all the manufacture and trade of ivory and give severe punishment to the offenders, only in this way could lessen the poaching activities at root.
Prosecutors in Beijing’s Xicheng district said on Tuesday that they have charged two people suspected of illegally selling ivory.
The two suspects, surnamed Liu and Ye, allegedly processed nearly 14 kilograms of ivory, valued at about 600,000 yuan ($99,300), and sold it to the public, the prosecutors said.
Since June 2010, the two had rented a room to process and sell artworks made of wood and ivory without any business license, according to the prosecuting authority.
At first, the pair only processed wood artworks but, from April 2013, they started making products of ivory because they realized the profits were much higher than for wood artworks, the prosecutors said.
“I know it is illegal to make ivory products, but what I didn’t think the fees for the artistry are illegal,” Liu told the prosecutors after arrest.
Zhang Lei, one of the district’s prosecutors, said Asian and African elephants in the wild face extinction and must be protected.
As per a judicial interpretation issued by the top court, people who illegally buy, transport or sell wild animals that are endangered species, or products from those animals, must be punished, Zhang added.
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.
By Edwin Nyarangi, The Star
Three men arrested with eight pieces of elephant tusks worth Sh1.4 million were yesterday taken before a Kilgoris court. Stephen Omambia, Francis Mahinda and Obieyo Nyandat were found with the 14kgs of ivory December 29 at Nkararo area in Trans Mara.The three denied three charges.
Resident magistrate Amos Mokoross released the three on Sh800,000 bond with a surety of similar amount each. The case will be mentioned on Friday while the hearing was set for January 23.