Tag Archives: terrorism

I-Team links Chicago ivory smuggling to terrorists

abc7Chicago
May 06, 2014

May 6, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — The I-Team investigates a global smuggling network linked to Chicago that is killing animals in the name of luxury art and authorities say is financing terrorism.

It’s a multi-billion-dollar problem, agony and ivory. The smuggling of ivory through major shipping hubs like Chicago props up international terrorism and organized crime groups.

The I-Team uncovers how some sellers are getting around new federal rules to curb the ivory trade and doing it in plain sight.

This is the Chicago battlefield in a war on illicit ivory smuggling, a war that starts more than 6,000 miles away on the African Savannah, with poachers taking down elephants for their tusks.
At a warehouse near O’Hare International Airport, United States Fish and Wildlife officers train an ivory-sniffing dog to hunt for elephant ivory, much of it on the way to the Far East.

Amanda Dickson/ Wildlife Inspector “The economy is growing in those countries and the demand for it has really skyrocketed,” said wildlife inspector Amanda Dickson. “People have money, it’s a status symbol, it’s considered good luck.”

The problem is so extensive that last fall federal officials organized a massive ivory crush at the federal illegal ivory stockpile in Colorado.

They hope that by destroying all of these statues and trinkets, and imposing tough new rules that make it extremely difficult to legally sell ivory, they can cause the public’s appetite to plummet and dropping demand would mean fewer elephants slaughtered.

But for years, federal laws have lacked real enforcement, allowing a shadowy global smuggling network to flourish.

“It’s much easier for a criminal to make money off of it, and then if they get caught, it’s just a slap on the wrist,” Dickson said.

At a recent Chicago inspection, one package stood out to wildlife law enforcement, marked “carved figure.”

“This is a piece of ivory that’s been carved to look like a skull,” said Dickson.

This bizarre skull is from an actual elephant tusk sold on eBay as “faux ivory.”

“Lot of times they do call it faux ivory but they know the difference because they’re paying much more for it than if it was a piece of plastic,” Dickson said.

Searching “faux ivory” on eBay turns up lots of high-priced items: Statues, decorative objects, sometimes offered for thousands of dollars.

Experts tell the I-Team the play on words is often a ploy, disguising real ivory to avoid the new rules against selling it.

“Faux ivory, fake ivories, basically have no value,” said Farhad Radfar, MIR Appraisers. “Everyone can see, they sell them for thousands of dollars and people who buy them, they know they’re real ivories. They’re getting around the law, lying right in the daylight.”

They aren’t just poachers. Worldwide crime funding can be traced back to profits from illegal ivory sales. A recent human rights report even linked ivory smuggling to North Korea’s brutal regime, as one of the rogue state’s main profit centers.

“It’s facilitating all sorts of illicit activities,” said Tom Cardamore, Global Financial Integrity. “Terrorist elements and organized crime use the proceeds of these activities to fund their own illegal activities.”

So, Chicago-based federal agents police the problem, box by box.

“If you have too many folks out there hunting these animals, killing these animals, they’re not able to reproduce quickly enough, so then what we have then is the extinction of the species,” said wildlife inspector Ryan Colburn.

“It’s not the whole puzzle but it’s one small piece and we’re hoping to make some impact,” Dickson said.

The Obama administration’s new rules against ivory trafficking are so strict, some Chicago auction houses say they are no longer able to sell legitimate antiques. Some of the nation’s top art and antique dealers are considering legal action against the government to overturn the ivory ban.

Orphaned elephants and thousands of murdered wildlife rangers – victims of the brutal ivory trade

Tom Parry, DAily Mirror
Feb 06, 2014

Meet Quanza , an elephant orphan who was one year old when she saw her mother shot dead with an assault rifle before her tusks were hacked off by poachers.

Quanza’s two sisters went the same way and the young calf was spared only because she had no ivory worth wasting a bullet on.

She is one of the thousands of African elephants left orphaned as crime syndicates linked to terrorism sell prized “white gold” to the Far East.

But the violent massacre of defenceless creatures has a human cost too.

More than a thousand wildlife rangers have been murdered by poachers in 35 different countries over the last decade.

They include Jonathan Mancha, shot dead by gun-toting Somalis in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park where Quanza was born, leaving seven children between 15 and three without a father.

Jonathan, 37, had been chief ranger for 15 years when told a poaching gang was at large.

He was off duty but that didn’t stop him waving goodbye to his family, jumping in his Kenya Wildlife Service jeep and heading for the scene of the massacre.

That was the last time they saw him.

I meet the family in a tiny, stifling hovel down a rutted mud track. Old newspapers cover the wooden walls.

Older brother Tim, who has stepped in to support the children, tells me Jonathan was a hero.

Widow Alfonzina, 50, has to go outside as we begin to speak. She can’t bear to be reminded of what happened.

Tim recalls: “He was told by another ranger that men, he called them butchers, had killed a giraffe and an elephant.

“He said, ‘I’m not going home while poachers are slaughtering animals’.

“It was believed these were Somali poachers and I warned him that Somalis shoot to kill, not to scare.

“John and the other rangers had to go out into the bush on foot and they spotted the poachers. There were four of them, lying down.

“The rangers opened fire but the poachers retaliated and John was shot in the thigh. The bleeding was so bad that he died very quickly.

“No one could stop the bleeding. The poachers had better weapons.”

The killing of rangers on the poaching frontline is one issue David Cameron and African heads of state will discuss at a London conference on the £12billion illegal wildlife trade next week.

Gangs linked to al-Shabaab fire their assault rifles indiscriminately at rangers often armed only with wooden batons, then flee over the border to lawless Somalia.

In just one national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 183 park rangers were killed in 10 years.

In Amboseli, where 1,500 elephants roam freely on the dusty plains, watching 13ft-high bull elephants tear up grass with their trunks as their calves follow meekly behind is an awe-inspiring sight. It seems inconceivable anyone would kill them simply for their ivory.

Yet the vast empty space beneath Mount Kilimanjaro is too large to be patrolled adequately, and that makes the animals vulnerable.

In October 2012, Quanza was beside her mother Qumquat, the leader of the family, when poachers strafed their herd with AK47 bullets.

She was one of three elderly mothers killed, targeted for her long tusks which would fetch up to £80,000 in the Far East.

The poachers had lain in wait on the Amboseli herd’s migration route to the forests of Tanzania.

Rangers found Quanza standing next to her mother’s rotting carcass, the family’s only survivor.

It is stories like this that made Jonathan risk his life.

As I talk to his brother in the half-light of the mud-floored room, Jonathan’s children play in the overgrown yard outside.

They are too poor to afford school.

“I will always believe that he died a gallant soldier,” says Tim.

“He protected those elephants as though they were people. He was a very dedicated man who was passionate about wildlife.”

Happily for Quanza, her story has a happier ending.

Unable to survive alone, she was sedated and flown to an elephant orphanage in the Kenyan capital Nairobi run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Now tended by keeper Amos Lakalau, she spends her days with other orphans in woodland and sleeps in a guarded enclosure.

Once rehabilitated, she will be returned to the wild.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick, 80, who tells me Quanza is likely to have seen her mother’s face hacked apart with an axe to get at the tusks, says: “It takes two years for the gestation of a baby elephant compared to nine months for man.

“This means it takes a long time for herds to regenerate if the older adults are targeted.

“Our anti-snaring teams are always catching poachers and alerting the authorities but the next day they are out again.

“They are laughing at them.”

Dame Daphne, honoured in 2006 for her lifetime’s work, adds: “There is no doubt that ivory smuggling syndicates are involved in arms and drugs.

“It is undoubtedly linked to terrorism, to al-Shabaab. The syndicates have become extremely rich through killing elephants.

“Corruption has always been a problem. The poachers have the connections to bribe their way out of prison.”

Prices of more than £100 a kilo for ivory in Kenya mean big money for the poorest people.

“The temptation is enormous,” she says. “In Kenya there are no social security benefits so a man has to live by whatever means he can.

“The key lies in China. As long as there is a demand for ivory, elephants will be killed.

“Until the sale of ivory is banned completely there will be a problem, and China will be seen as the villain.

“In China ivory is seen as a status symbol. It is considered white gold.”

I realise the enormity of the challenge when I meet ranger Moses Sinkooi, 30, and his team of three in a simple hut up a rocky hill.

It’s a far outpost, a small dot on a vast horizon.

The team monitor 5,000 acres on foot and the odds are stacked enormously against them.

“Three elephants were shot dead near here,” Moses tells me.

“It’s hard. There are only four of us and many of them.”

But the dedicated rangers will not give up… because, until the politicans take decisive action , they are the last line of defence for the animals they care for.

Germany demands UN resolution on poaching

October 10, 2013

Poaching and illegal animal trading are not only threats against animals but also for humans. Proceeds finance violence and terrorism. Now Germany and Gabon are demanding a UN resolution.

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For Jams Leape, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), poaching is a deadly spiral of crime. “Elephants are being poached; their ivory is sold and in the end that finances the purchase of weapons,” he told DW in an interview.

Three recent reports of international trading of wild animals highlight the severity of this issue. In Nepal, police arrested 14 alleged rhinoceros poachers; in Hong Kong elephant tusks worth 740,000 euros ($1 million) were seized from a shipment from Africa and in Kenya, customs found more than 1,600 ivory pieces hidden in sesame seeds.

Extinction of animal species feared

The black market for these animals is a “big business,” according to Leape. Slaughtering protected animals such as elephants or rhinos in order to sell their tusks and horns on the international black market “is now one of the largest organized crime businesses in the world,” he said.

The illegal poaching business is worth an estimated 14 billion euros ($19 billion) per year, a trend that is on the rise. “And you can see the effects on the ground. Estimates say we are losing more than 30,000 elephants every year,” Leape said. “The elephant population in the Congo Basin in Central Africa has dropped 60 percent in the last decade.”

The Congo Basin with its savannas and forests is considered Africa’s “green lung” and is home to many wild animals. But rhino poaching has soared in the last several years. “We lost 13 rhinos in 2007. We’ve lost 688 rhinos already this year, and we still have three months to go,” Leape said.

Stability threatened

The worldwide illegal trade of protected animals not only threatens endangered species, it also damages flora and fauna, and that is a serious threat for many states and their citizens.

After all, proceeds from this underground business finance international drug dealers, criminal associations, rebel groups and, ultimately, terrorism. Violence and corruption greatly benefit from illegal poaching, which in turn exacerbates the conflicts that are threatening to unravel the stability of governments.

“We want people to understand that this is not just a wildlife crisis; it’s in fact a humanitarian crisis,” Leape said. “Because poaching and international trade are undermining governments and communities across the countries where these animals live.”

Germany calls on fighting poaching

To break this spiral of violence, Germany and Gabon have begun tackling the issue and called for action at the last UN General Assembly.

“It is obvious that this issue is not on the front pages of the media everyday, but it is an issue of great importance,” outgoing German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said at a meeting of German and Gabonese dignitaries in New York.

“Poaching is not only a crime against animals but also against peoples, because it is destabilizing countries, societies, and it is an organized crime. And that’s why we want to fight against it and work together,” Westerwelle added.

No demand – no market

Gabon’s president, Ali Bongom, agreed with Westerwelle and said “poaching today is more than transnational crime and a real environmental problem.”

He pointed to the responsibility of those on the receiving end of the criminal activity, namely the purchaser that pays a large price for tusks and rare animal fur.

“No demand, no market: and all of us have to work towards achieving that end,” Bongom said.

Calling for a UN resolution

For Leape, cooperation is also crucial, and the UN General Assembly was a good opportunity to highlight the problems and initiate a common UN approach.

“We asked for a UN resolution on international wildlife trafficking and got quite enthusiastic support from several corners,” Leape said.

“We also called for [Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon] to appoint a special representative whose full-time focus would be addressing the international wildlife trade problem – and understanding its connection to sustainable development.”

Like other non-governmental organizations, the WWF works together with governments of affected countries to help them bolster enforcements and make sure that poachers are prosecuted when caught.

“It is paramount that we track down not only those on the ground but the kingpins who are actually running the show.”

“We’ve had a couple of successes in the last years,” Leape said. “But that’s clearly an area that needs to be strengthened. We’re helping governments do that and come together in regional cooperation to catch gangs who are roaming freely across national borders.”