Tag Archives: Kenyan President

Counting the cost of East Africa’s poaching economy

Organised crime gangs generate staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn

AFP

Published: 15:33 March 23, 2014

Nairobi: Organised crime gangs in East Africa are generating staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn with impunity, experts say, threatening both an irreplaceable wildlife heritage and key tourism industries.

Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the “primary gateway” for ivory smuggled to Asia, where demand is fuelled by increasingly affluent markets, especially in China, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns.

Last year, seizures of ivory shipments reached “record levels”, according to a recent Interpol report.

“Large-scale ivory shipments — each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants — point to the involvement of organised crime networks operating across multiple countries,” Interpol said.

 Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years.

Organised gangs with insider knowledge and armed with automatic weapons and specialised equipment such as night vision goggles, brazenly use chainsaws to carve out the rhino horn or remove elephant tusks.

Veteran Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey has now warned that drastic action must be taken, saying that known ringleaders in Kenya are operating with “outrageous impunity”.

The rise in poaching, with animals being slaughtered inside even the most heavily guarded national parks or conservation areas, show that the poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to stem the wave of killings, he said.

“They could not operate with the impunity we are seeing if you did not have some form of protection from law enforcement agencies,” Leakey said, as he made an appeal for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take action.

“It is a problem of a few criminals… the ringleaders are known,” he added, claiming that a core group of around 20 to 30 people were organising the mass poaching but that none had faced justice.

It’s a lucrative business: a kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (Dh3,121) in Asia, with UNODC suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million in 2011.

But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which in Kenya and Tanzania is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.

“The African elephant is not currently deemed ‘endangered’ as a species, but its decimation in Eastern Africa could be devastating,” UNODC’s report read.

“In addition to the reduction in genetic diversity, its loss could seriously undermine local tourist revenues, a key source of foreign exchange for many of the countries of the region.”

But the region’s two large container ports — Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania — are also notorious trafficking hubs, funnelling more elephant tusks to Asia than all of central, southern and west African nations combined.

The two nations made up almost two-thirds of all large shipments of ivory seized across the entire continent from 2009-2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a tracking database run by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Seizures of containers crammed full of tusks — often hidden under foul-smelling fish or dried chili peppers in a bid to confuse sniffer dogs or discourage detailed searches — are regularly found.

Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.

“Growing affluence in China, where possession of elephant ivory remains a status symbol, appears to have rendered China the world’s leading destination for illicit ivory,” the UNODC report added.

The smuggling of rhino horns is a bigger problem for Southern Africa, which has far more of the endangered animals. It is often done by air, due to the value of the horn and its smaller size.

But scores of East African rhinos are also being killed despite wildlife rangers often risking their lives to protect them.

 Few convictions

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 Action is being taken including far stiffer sentences for wildlife crime, with Tanzania this month jailing a Chinese ivory smuggler to 20 years in jail, and Kenya introducing tough new laws with comparable penalties.

But many escape justice: a recent study by the Kenyan conservation campaign group Wildlife Direct found that just four percent of those convicted of wildlife crime in the past spent time in jail.

Tanzania last year launched a crackdown on suspected poachers, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.

Leakey, 69, a Kenyan national and former head of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said with the “right management” stemming the poaching was “not an impossible” task.

He was key in stemming the rampant poaching of the late 1980s, bringing in extreme measures to combat poachers including sending helicopter gunships into national parks, and organising the iconic burning of stockpiled ivory.

“It is not valuable, it is tragic rubbish,” Leakey said, waving an ivory carving seized from a smuggler, the tiny tusk of a baby elephant.

“It is putting at risk our heritage… you can regrow a crop but you cannot regrow a wildlife species that disappears.”

This article can be found in this link:

http://gulfnews.com/news/world/other-world/counting-the-cost-of-east-africa-s-poaching-economy-1.1307699

U.S. Ivory Crush Should Be Just a First Step

Bryan Christy, National Geographic
November 12, 2013

This Thursday, the United States government will destroy nearly six tons of ivory, which represents a good portion of the ivory the U.S. has seized since the late 1980s, when a national ban on commercial African ivory imports went into effect.

It will be a symbolic act. But symbolism matters.

Ivory destruction ceremonies have been a litmus test for where a country stands on the ivory trade ever since Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi torched 13 tons of ivory in 1989, setting the stage for a vote to ban international trade in ivory by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

That ban went into effect in 1990. Six months later, the U.S. ivory market collapsed.

With no international market, it might have been reasonable for all CITES parties to destroy their ivory stocks after the 1990 international ivory ban took effect.

But the ban did not last. In 1999 and again in 2008 parties to CITES voted to allow ivory sales.

The first sale was of 55 tons to Japan and the second, of 115 tons to Japan and China.  In the wake of the China sale, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have boomed. So has the need for international action.

Last year, Gabon burned 4.8 tons of ivory. Earlier this year the Philippines became the first non-African country to destroy its ivory stocks when it crushed five tons of ivory.

Each was an act by a relatively poor country sacrificing a potential asset for principles that go beyond money. “The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre, and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing,” Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said last summer, when his country crushed its ivory.

But not all ivory destructions are alike.

One of the most amazing things about the African elephant is its ability, despite its immense size, to blend in with its surroundings. Just meters away, even seasoned scouts can overlook an elephant.

So, too, does the language surrounding the elephant’s protection easily conceal the size and nature of the ivory trafficking problem.

The United States banned the import and export of African ivory in 1989 but it did not ban its domestic sale. So ivory continues to be openly available for sale in luxury shops just off Madison Avenue in New York City, just as it is in San Francisco and other American cities. (See pictures of the ivory trade around the world.)

As recently demonstrated by criminal cases in New York and Philadelphia, America’s legal ivory market has offered an incentive for ivory smugglers.

In 2012, New York state announced guilty pleas by two ivory dealers. In 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agents raided the African art store of Philadelphia African art dealer Victor Gordon, seizing an estimated ton of ivory from his facilities and his customers. (According to USFWS officials, Gordon’s ivory is considered evidence and is not part of the ivory to be destroyed this week.)

But it would be a mistake to think ivory trafficking to the United States compares in any meaningful way to ivory smuggling to China.

U.S. Customs and USFWS inspectors are among the most respected border patrollers in the world and have only interdicted a total of six or so tons of ivory since 1989.

It’s not been surprising to find that amount of ivory in a single illegal shipment or two bound for China. In 2011 alone, 46.5 tons of illegal ivory were seized, much of it headed for China.

In choosing to destroy its national ivory stock a quarter century ago, Kenya took a big risk. Its ivory burn put that country in conflict with its southern neighbors who wanted to expand the ivory trade, and it cost Kenya a lot of potential revenue.

But Kenya made a calculation that tourism for live elephants was more valuable than trinkets from dead ones. In destroying its ivory stocks this week, the United States has much less at stake than Kenya did in 1989, or even than Gabon or the Philippines did more recently.

“We hope this is only the beginning and as a next step the U.S. bans its domestic ivory trade,” said Paula Kahumbu, director of Kenya-based Wildlife Direct. “Every single thing that demonstrates individual or national responsibility is a step in the right direction.”

When it comes to today’s ivory trade, one important resource the United States has that other countries don’t is its economic relationship with China. Unlike the U.S., China’s government seeks to expand its domestic ivory trade and to import more ivory from Africa.

Law enforcement in Asia and Africa is inadequate to stop ivory trafficking syndicates. So calling upon China and other countries to ban the domestic sale of ivory and to join the U.S. would be an even more meaningful expenditure of American political capital.