Tag Archives: TRAFFIC

Connect the dots: infant mortality, graft and elephant poaching


A herd of elephants gather at a watering hole inside Hwange National Park, about 840 km (521 miles) outside Harare

Ed Stoddard

Reuters 7:47 a.m. CST, January 2, 2014

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – What do infant mortality and elephant poaching have in common? Plenty, according to conservation groups.

Researchers have for the first time made clear connections between elephant poaching in Africa, which has been surging to meet soaring ivory demand in Asia, and factors such as poverty, as shown by high rates of child deaths, and corruption.

These links have always been suspected but never pinned down with hard data.

The findings come in a report prepared for an African elephant summit in Botswana in December by groups including TRAFFIC, which tracks the global trade in wildlife products, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Areas where child mortality and poverty are worst also see higher levels of elephant poaching, but poor villagers typically do not benefit from the illicit ivory trade.

In this regard, the ivory trade – with its long and blood-stained history – is similar to other extractive industries in Africa, which have been exploited to meet demand elsewhere with few rewards for local people.

Demand for ivory – used for carvings and valued for millennia for its color and texture – has been rising sharply in newly affluent Asian countries, notably China, fuelling a new wave of elephant slaughter.

Following a decline in the 1990s, poaching of the world’s largest land mammal has risen dramatically and in 2012 an estimated 15,000 elephants were illegally killed at 42 sites in Africa monitored by MIKE – the U.N.-backed program for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants.

Since 2010, elephant poaching levels in Africa have exceeded 5 percent of the total population – a tipping point because killings are now outpacing the animals’ birth rate.

In a related trend, the killing of rhinos for their horns – used in traditional medicine in Vietnam and China – has also soared, notably in South Africa, home to the vast majority of the animals.

According to South African government statistics, as of December 19, a record 946 rhinos had been poached in the country in 2013, compared to 668 in all of 2012.


The report found a striking link between infant mortality rates – measured by the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 10,000 live births – and the illegal killing of elephants.

“Human infant mortality, which is interpreted as a proxy for poverty, is the single strongest site-level correlate … with sites suffering from higher levels of poverty experiencing higher levels of elephant poaching,” the report said.

The relationship between poverty and poaching – in Africa and elsewhere – has long been assumed because wildlife is a source of food or money for impoverished rural dwellers.

But links between measurements of poverty and living standards, such as infant mortality, and the illicit killing of elephants, have not been made before with the kind of clarity that researchers have found in the data over the past two years.

Julian Blanc, a co-author of the study and acting coordinator for MIKE, told Reuters infant mortality was the best barometer for poverty because data for it, based on work by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, exists at local levels.

It can therefore be linked to localized incidents of elephant poaching, making it far more useful than other measurements such as per capita GDP, which can give a skewed picture, especially in countries with high levels of inequality.

Ziama in Guinea, Niassa in Mozambique, and Bangassou in Central African Republic were the three areas covered in the report with the highest rates of infant mortality, ranging from 1,240 to almost 1,400 deaths per 10,000 live births.

All three areas also had extremely high levels of elephant poaching. In the case of Ziama, its elephant population is small but has been reduced by over half in the past few years.

The next four areas in the infant mortality rankings were all found in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report also found, using Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, that at the national level “high poaching levels are more prevalent in countries where governance is weaker, and vice versa”.

Poverty and governance are the “enabling” factors for poaching, with consumer demand the other key link in the chain.

Poor governance and high poverty levels overlap between countries such as Congo and Central African Republic, which are also areas where local people see little value in elephant populations.

“In many parts of Africa people living with elephants derive no benefits from that coexistence and only bear costs in terms of crop damage, injury or death,” Blanc said in a telephone interview from his Nairobi base.


Many of these countries – such as Central African Republic – also suffer from the development curses of having tropical climates, which impose the heavy disease burden seen in their infant mortality rates, and being landlocked, which imposes economic costs.

Still, that does not mean that wildlife in such places could not be utilized in a way that might bring economic benefits. Heavily forested and tropical Gabon, for example, is building a wildlife tourist industry aimed at the more adventurous.

But elsewhere in central Africa, elephants, a natural resource that could lift rural economies in the form of eco-tourism, or even a regulated ivory trade down the road, are being exterminated, depriving future generations of potential income.

Such poverty traps serve as a sobering reminder, against the backdrop of the “Africa Rising” narrative, that much of the world’s poorest continent is still being excluded from the region’s dynamic economic growth and investment story.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

The original article can be found in this article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us-africa-investment-20140102,0,6592799.story


Jail term and fines for smugglers ‘too lenient’

South China Morning Post
22 December, 2013

Wildlife conservationists slammed a four-month jail term and fines of up to HK$80,000 for five ivory smugglers from the mainland as “too lenient”, saying it will do little to stop the illicit trade.

“It is way too lenient because Chinese people buying illicit ivory in Africa know that if they are caught, at most they will just lose the ivory and get a puny fine,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Since 2004, there have been 61 prosecutions against the illegal import of ivory by air passengers. Sentences ranged from two to eight months’ imprisonment or a fine of HK$2,500 to HK$80,000.

Earlier this month, 14 people were arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport after Customs seized 160kg of ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces in their checked-in baggage. The travellers were on three flights from  Dubai and Johannesburg. Seven of the accused – all from the mainland – faced Tsuen Wan Court last week, with five convictions. Two cases are still pending.

Yin Qun, 40, was jailed for four months for smuggling 48.4kg of worked ivory; Zeng Hongzhen, 29, was fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 11.26kg; and Zeng Hongjin, 24, got a HK$50,000 fine for smuggling 23.17kg. Two others, whose names are unknown, were fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 12.17 kg and HK$80,000 for smuggling 9.5kg. Xu Bin, 24, and Xu Kaiyi, 25 pleaded not guilty and will face trial next month.

The other seven travellers are still under investigation.

Gabriel said the high-profit and low-risk nature of the illicit ivory trade made it attractive to criminal gangs. “Unless the penalties are raised, it is not going to have a deterrent effect,” she said.

Tom Milliken, of the wildlife group Traffic, said while he welcomed the jail term as a deterrent, fines could be written off as “the price of doing business”.


African countries want to join forces to tackle poaching


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.”

How to end the elephant slaughter

By Cristian Samper, Patrick Bergin, Peter Seligmann, Azzedine Downes, and Carter Roberts, CNN
September 27, 2013

(CNN) — Dzanga Bai is a magical place of natural wonder. It is on the Central African Republic’s southwest border with the Republic of Congo and is widely considered the most important gathering place for forest elephants in the entire Congo basin. For decades — and probably centuries — elephants by the hundreds from across the region have congregated there, reconnecting with family members and drinking the mineral-rich waters.

Last May, a group of heavily armed men, believed to be linked to the Seleka rebel group, entered Dzanga Bai and slaughtered a reported two dozen elephants.

By the time Dzanga Bai’s elephant carcasses were discovered, the perpetrators were gone, leaving in their wake a horrific crime scene of heads carved up for their precious ivory. Tusks like these, typically destined for Asian markets, where growing demand has quickly driven up prices, have in recent years presented a new opportunity for quick cash to finance the operations of armed gangs from the Central African Republic east to Somalia. It is now widely understood that groups ranging from Darfur’s Janjaweed to Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army have turned to this revenue source.

“The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake…”
The growth of these groups, with funds from illegal wildlife trafficking, is destabilizing African governments even as it devastates populations of elephants, rhinos and other high value wildlife. Operating through terror and intimidation, roving rebel armies undermine democratic governance and responsible resource management while devastating regional economies through disruptions to tourism and local livelihoods.

In meetings in the United States, Asia and Africa this year, we have listened as leaders have shared their growing anxiety. The new poachers are tied to criminal syndicates. Rifles and machetes have been enhanced or replaced with helicopters, night visions goggles, sophisticated telecommunications and automatic weapons. Local communities are terrified and national governments fear losing large swaths of territory to these gangs.

Out of these conversations has emerged a challenge to the world—from African nations–to stop buying ivory. Representatives of the governments of Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, along with the international nongovernmental organizations we represent, have gathered in New York this week to announce an important commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative. Together, we have three straightforward goals: (1) stop the killing; (2) stop the trafficking; and (3) stop the demand.

To stop the killing and the trafficking, the international community can help states that make up the present range of the African elephant by providing equipment, training and expertise. President Obama recently dedicated $10 million for law enforcement efforts and the creation of a wildlife trafficking task force at the highest levels of the U.S. government, complementing existing U.S. initiatives. European and other nations, along with private citizens, need to join him in committing emergency resources to enforcement efforts in elephant landscapes and ivory trafficking ports.

Despite a ban on international trade in ivory imposed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1989, domestic sales remain legal in a number of countries, including the United States. Because these legal markets can provide a front for laundering illegal ivory into the trade, moratoria on domestic sales of ivory are also a vital part of anti-trafficking efforts.

Stopping the demand requires new strategies. Removing the prestige associated with buying ivory requires creative new uses of social media and other tools to change consumption behavior in China and elsewhere. Once the demand for ivory is curtailed there will be little financial incentive for criminal groups to continue elephant poaching and trafficking.

Yet because carved ivory is a centuries-old cultural tradition, this change will take time — something the world’s dwindling elephant populations don’t have. That is why African nations with the greatest remaining elephant populations have begun to call for nations across the globe to stop selling and purchasing ivory until all African elephant populations have recovered to healthy levels.

The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake: the loss of roughly three-quarters of all remaining African forest elephants; the murder of hundreds of courageous wildlife guards; regional government resources stretched to their limits as villagers across sub-Saharan Africa live in daily terror.

The initiative launched this week by representatives of elephant range states, ivory consumer nations, and our organizations has been endorsed by an unprecedented group of conservation partners that include the African Parks Network, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Freeland Foundation, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid, and Wildlife Direct.

This effort is our best bet at saving these majestic, highly intelligent and socially complex creatures while bringing much-needed stability to governments whose hopes for a brighter future require that armed gangs no longer operate within their borders. Before it’s too late, let’s stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.

Editor’s note: Cristián Samper is the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Patrick Bergin is the president and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation; Peter Seligmann is chairman and CEO of Conservation International; Azzedine Downes is the president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and Carter Roberts is the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund

Ivory “detector” fraudster sentenced to 7 years in jail

August 27, 2013

Cambridge, UK, 27th August 2013—A British businessman who sold fake bomb and ivory detectors has been sentenced to seven years in jail by a court in the United Kingdom.

47 year old Gary Bolton sold the devices, which were nothing more than empty boxes with handles and antennae, for up to GBP10,000 (USD15,600) each, claiming they could detect drugs, tobacco, ivory and cash. His company was said by the prosecution to have an annual turnover of GBP3 million (USD4.7 million).

In a separate but similar case, another British businessman, James McCormick, was jailed for 10 years in May this year for selling more than 7,000 fake detectors, which he claimed were able to detect explosives, drugs, ivory and money.

In both cases the devices were marketed successfully to military, police and private clients around the world.  Among the buyers were wildlife enforcement authorities in Africa, who were led to believe that their fight against illegal ivory trade could be strengthened by use of these gadgets.

“It is a tragedy that scarce conservation resources were spent in good faith on ‘technology’ that turned out to be worthless junk,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.

TRAFFIC had raised concerns about the efficacy of these devices with potential users a number of times over recent years.

“New technology has an important role to play in the fight against wildlife crime, but these cases demonstrate that the quest for quick solutions to difficult problems can sometimes lead to bad decisions.  Often the best approach is more rigorous application of tried and trusted enforcement approaches such as intelligence-led offender profiling, trained detector dogs and more efficient information sharing between agencies working to halt wildlife crime.”