Tag Archives: Richard Leakey

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

Opinion: China’s Ivory Crush Is Important First Step

Bryan Christy, National Geographic
January 8, 2014

In a surprising step, China this week became the latest in a growing number of countries to publicly destroy large quantities of ivory to bring attention to the global trade in illegal ivory. From any angle, China’s move has important and positive implications for the fight against an illegal ivory trade that is killing tens of thousands of African elephants every year.

Still, not all ivory destruction ceremonies are alike, and when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, China is not just any country.

“Wildlife trafficking has become a serious problem, and illegal trade of ivory and wildlife products is increasing,” China’s State Forestry Administration declared in a statement to the United Nations explaining its decision to destroy 6.1 tons of its ivory this week. The destruction was conducted “for the purpose of raising public awareness, and demonstrating China’s resolve to combat wildlife trafficking.”

China’s destruction ceremony comes on the heels of similar acts by the United States (six tons) and the Philippines (five tons), both of which crushed their entire national ivory stocks last year. Together these three events represent the first time in history that non-African countries have publicly destroyed their ivory.

Not All Ivory Destructions Are Alike

The destruction of illegal ivory has become perhaps the most recognizable and powerful symbolic act in wildlife conservation, starting in 1989 when Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi, flanked by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, set fire to 12 tons of ivory.

Orange flames rising from that pile of tusks shocked the world and inspired parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to enact a global ban on international trade in ivory later that year.

What made Kenya’s action so significant was the sacrifice that the burning of its ivory represented: Burning ivory equaled burning cash, especially in a world before the ivory ban.

After the global ban on the ivory trade went into effect, elephant populations that had been decimated by poachers began to recover. The ban held for ten years until 1999, when CITES allowed a “one-time” experimental sale of 50 tons of ivory to Japan. The ivory trade ban took a second hit in 2008 when CITES allowed a second sale of 102 tons of ivory to Japan and China.

By all accounts, that second sale was a disaster. The Chinese economy was simply too hot, and global law enforcement too weak, to prevent the 2008 sale from opening the floodgates to a massive illegal ivory trade between Africa and China, resulting in the current bloodbath for African elephants.

In the wake of a poaching and trafficking crisis, countries have again turned to ivory destruction ceremonies to bring attention to the problem. In 2011 Kenya hosted a burn of 5.5 tons of ivory belonging to a number of African nations (but did not burn any of its own stock). Gabon burned its ivory in 2012.

Symbolic Acts Backed Up With Action

Importantly, destroying ivory stocks has been a symbolic act accompanied in each case by parallel action. Kenya’s 1989 ivory burn was not only a symbolic act for the world, it was also a tangible act of defiance against Zimbabwe and a handful of other pro-ivory-trade southern African countries that opposed an ivory ban. Likewise, Gabon’s burn said “no” to proposals to open Africa to ivory trading that were then actively being floated.

The Philippines ivory destruction ceremony was accompanied by an announcement of the launch of a new wildlife trafficking enforcement unit and an acknowledgment that the Philippines could not protect its ivory warehouse, which had been frequently robbed.

The United States, too, had more to say. The ivory destruction ceremony in Denver put a physical face on President Obama’s new cabinet-level Wildlife Trafficking Task Force, formed in part to recognize that wildlife trafficking is a national security issue, especially when it comes to ivory. Officials used the ivory destruction ceremony to float the idea of a nationwide ban on domestic ivory sales in the United States, not just on imports or exports. That idea is now gaining momentum in Washington and around the country.

The question is, what is the parallel message from China? Unlike any of these other countries, which all oppose international trade in ivory, China supports it. In fact, China is the world’s leading ivory consumer, legal and illegal, and it is home to the world’s biggest ivory-carving factory.

What Does This Mean for China?

Certainly, publicity from its ivory crush will help the Chinese government inform its public that not all ivory in China is legal. A survey conducted as part of the documentary Battle for the Elephants indicated that nearly 60 percent of Chinese believe that making ivory “illegal to purchase under any circumstances” under “the strong recommendation of a government leader” would be the most effective way to stop ivory trading.

So the crush has implications in terms of public awareness and demand reduction.

Yet China’s wildlife department, the State Forestry Administration, has a history of cooking the books when it comes to ivory policy. As I reported in Blood Ivory, in order to gain CITES approval to buy ivory in 2008, China made many small ivory seizures to improve its law enforcement rating even though it made no significant inroads against crime.

Likewise, China and Japan joined forces to manipulate the 2008 ivory auction prices and, rather than undercut the black market with cheap ivory as many hoped the sale would do, those in the government ivory industry raised prices, inviting more illegal trade, not less.

China’s ivory crush is to be commended on a level having nothing to do with wildlife directly. As I discovered during my three-year investigation of the international ivory trade for National Geographic, one of the primary uses of the very valuable sculptures carved in China’s legal ivory factories is as bribes to curry favor with superiors in government or to influence business clients. IFAW’s Grace Ge Gabriel has pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s austerity program has targeted corruption at all levels of government, with the consequence of reducing sales of luxury items, including shark fin soup and, potentially, ivory.

So far, the world has been unable to police the killing of elephants that has exploded after the legal ivory market was opened in China. Chinese wildlife department officials have repeatedly denied that China’s ivory industry is responsible for Africa’s poaching problem. As recently as last year, China’s CITES delegate Wan Ziming called upon delegates to allow sales to China of not only ivory from elephants that died of natural causes, but also of ivory seized in police actions.

Destroying such ivory this week suggests a possible change in thinking among wildlife department officials. Or, better still, maybe it suggests that more than China’s wildlife department is now listening.

Kenya’s Elephants may be extinct in 10 years

http://http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-29/kenya-elephants-may-face-extinction-by-2023-if-poaching-persists.html

 

Kenya’s Prime Minister Urged to Help Ban Carbofuran

Kenya’s Prime Minister Urged to Help Ban Carbofuran

Nairobi, 06 November 2009 – On Friday, 30 October 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would implement the agency’s May 2009 final rule revoking all tolerances, or residue limits, for the pesticide carbofuran. From 31 December 2009, therefore, any use of carbofuran in USA becomes a crime punishable with fines and jail sentences. Kenyan conservationists now want their government to follow suit and impose a total ban on carbofuran in the country.

Conservationists, led by the Nairobi-based NGO, WildlifeDirect, want the support of their Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who on Monday, 2 November 2009, adopted a lion under the Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) Wildlife Endowment Fund. It is a rare conservation gesture coming from one so high in Kenya’s political pyramid.

WildlifeDirect and its partners have been calling for a total ban on carbofuran in Kenya for about two years and they now see hope in the Prime Minister’s small but important gesture of adopting a lion – a species imperiled by this lethal poison. “Mr Odinga should now lead parliament in realizing the ban on this number one lion-killer.” says Dr Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of WildlifeDirect.

Carbofuran, known in Kenya by its brand name- Furadan, which is manufactured by the FMC Corporation of Philadelphia, USA and is solely distributed in Kenya (and the rest of East Africa) by Juanco Limited – is known to have killed at least 76 lions in 5 years. Carbofuran is also responsible for the deaths of more than 300 vultures, and truckloads of other birds and animals according to scientists and the KWS.

Reports of human death due to carbofuran poisoning have emerged. WildlifeDirect spoke on phone with the heartbroken father of a child who died of Furadan poisoning. The report of this death first appeared on Kenya’s The Standard newspaper on Friday, 30 October 2009 saying that on Monday, 26 October 2009, the child had mistakenly ingested Furadan and died.

The child’s father informed WildlifeDirect that the child died on arrival at the Cherangani Nursing Home in Trans Nzoia East District in western Kenya. The father had bought the pesticide four months ago for use in killing insects in the soil when preparing his vegetable nursery. He says that he was not aware how dangerous the product is and was not informed by the retailer about the first aid approach in case of pesticide ingestion. He gave his child milk and crushed eggs – a method of dealing with poisoning widely used in Africa – instead of water as the label says.

This confirms that this poison is critically dangerous for Africans even those with sufficient levels of education like the bereaved man who is a teacher at a local primary school. The lack of the clear and utterly off-putting universal symbol of death – the skull and crossbones – dupes end users of the pesticide into thinking that its poisoning effects are mild.

The damage that carbofuran has caused to wildlife, the environment and humans is not unique to Kenya. Of the EPA’s 3 year determination, Steve Owens, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office said that “The evidence is clear that carbofuran does not meet today’s rigorous food-safety standards.”

“If the pesticide is not safe for use in the US or Europe, where pesticide users are more informed, why would we think that the pesticide is safe for use in Africa?” asks Dr Richard Leakey, Chairman of WildlifeDirect.

This pesticide was developed for largely literate and highly regulated developed countries. In Africa, where most farmers are uneducated and where the regulatory bodies are under-resourced, users are exposed to greater danger. The product is often repackaged in small, affordable but unmarked packets that have no user instructions. “It is immoral to sell a pesticide as dangerous as carbofuran in Africa” Dr Leakey adds.

It gets worse for Kenya which is a large exporter of coffee to the US. Dr Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy says, “The revocation of all food tolerances has international implications, as imports of rice, coffee, bananas and sugarcane were previously allowed to contain residues of carbofuran.” He adds, “After this revocation, countries wishing to export these foods to the US must stop using carbofuran on these four major crops.”

Dr Leakey, who has been central to the call to ban this lethal poison, urges Mr Odinga to act now to stop this carnage. “The Prime Minister did well to adopt that young lion cub, but now is the time for him to lead in a much more significant action to save lions – declare them an endangered species in Kenya and enforce a total ban on carbofurans” he says.

This, according to WildlifeDirect, must be coupled with proper management of lions, compensation for depredation of livestock, incentives and rewards for communities and land owners to protect lions, plus effective enforcement by the wildlife authorities. These actions could bring the lion back from the brink of national extinction and restore the pride to Kenya’s national symbol.