Tag Archives: traffickers

Home-grown corruption is killing Africa’s rhinos and elephants

Andreas Wilson-Spath, Daily Maverick
November 28, 2014
While the crisis is complex, with root causes in chronic poverty, the absence of sustainable economic alternatives and a burgeoning demand for wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn, the wheels of this multi-billion dollar industry are liberally greased by bribery and corruption at all levels of government in several African countries.
Even a cursory summary of the epidemic’s lowlights, makes for depressing reading:
Tanzania
Fast becoming Africa’s chief source of illicit ivory, Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephants to poaching since 2006. Collusion between corrupt government officials and criminal syndicates has been identified as the root cause. Game rangers provide critical information to poachers, police officers supply guns, Tanzanian Revenue Authority officers release containers of ivory for export, and ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party functionaries offer high-level protection for trafficking operations.
In 2012 a list of individuals involved in elephant poaching, including prominent politicians, was handed to President Jakaya Kikwete. The following year, four CCM members of parliament, among them the party’s Secretary-General, Abdulrahman Kinana, were named for their involvement. None of the individuals implicated have been investigated further or arrested.
In 2013, Tanzania’s Auditor General criticised the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism’s Wildlife Division for the significant quantities of stockpiled elephant tusks that have gone missing while in its care and for under-reporting official poaching figures.
Earlier this year, police officers supplied poachers with weapons and access to the famed Selous Reserve, taking delivery of the ivory once five elephants had been killed.
A recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report notes that “the highest levels of the Tanzanian government” are ultimately responsible for the decimation of the country’s elephant population by failing to ensure that wildlife laws are enforced and by not achieving higher conviction rates when cases are brought to court.
Zambia
In 2013, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, dismissed Edwin Matokwani, the Director-General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) along with a number of his colleagues on the basis of malpractice and corruption involving commercial hunting companies.
In the same year, Defence Minister, Geoffrey Mwamba, was caught at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport with three large bags of elephant tusks. He was released without charge after claiming diplomatic immunity. The tusks were confiscated by ZAWA, but reappeared in the luggage of a Chinese diplomat at the same airport two days later. No further action was taken.
Mozambique
Poaching incidents reported to the Mozambican police and border guard are rarely followed up, cases are known to be squashed pending the payment of bribes, and offenders are released uncharged after a “deposit” of cash has been made.
A “web of official complicity” involving administrative, judicial and tax authorities in the northern provinces of Niassa and Cabo Delgado, including the Criminal Investigation Police, prosecuting attorneys and the courts, facilitates the industrial-scale elephant slaughter in the region. Government officials are known to have supplied poachers with high-calibre weapons, provided access to protected areas and smoothed the transportation of ivory and rhino horn out of the country.
In 2010, twelve elephants were killed in Mecula District using weapons supplied by police. The following year, eight Frontier Guard members were caught selling 350 kilograms of seized ivory. Instead of facing punishment, they were transferred to a different area.
Since 2012, several tonnes of ivory have disappeared from Mozambique’s official stockpile. High-level collusion by government officials is suspected.
The ruling Frelimo party stands accused of using the proceeds of ivory sales from more than 50 elephants poached in Niassa National Reserve with military equipment to fund its 2012 congress in Pemba.
In return for a bribe, airport customs officers in Maputo are known not to search luggage leaving the country, while customs and police officers provide similar services for containers shipped out of Pemba by Chinese timber companies. Cabo Delgado police commander Dora Manuel Majante has been accused of facilitating the passage of ivory and other contraband through Pemba’s airport and harbour.
A considerable proportion of the hundreds of poachers arrested or killed in the Kruger National Park have been members of the Mozambican army, police and border guard.
Uganda
Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was asked to assist in the apprehension of high-ranking government officials involved in illegal wildlife trafficking. No action was taken.
This month, more than a tonne of stockpiled ivory went missing from a Ugandan government vault. A local newspaper claims that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials in cahoots with traffickers are responsible for widespread ivory theft. Since then, six top UWA employees, including executive director Andrew Seguya, have been suspended pending the outcome of a police investigation.
Sudan
Militias allied to the Sudanese government are alleged to engage in elephant poaching operations as far afield as Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), trafficking ivory via the government in Khartoum and its military.
South Sudan
Ending in 2005, the two-decade-long war between south and north Sudan reduced the local elephant population from more than 80 000 to less than 5000. Since then, ongoing internal military conflict between the official government army and rebel forces threatens to eradicate it altogether as soldiers butcher elephants and other wildlife for meat and ivory.
DRC
The DRC’s army is believed by many observers to be the leading poacher in the vast eastern regions of the country. Until leaving in 2011, Uganda’s occupying People’s Defence Force was also linked to poaching.
South Africa
A number of key officials canvassed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2012 consider corruption connected to wildlife crime to be rife in South Africa, particularly with regards to issuing of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) permits. Formal action against corrupt officials remains the exception.
Zimbabwe
Elite members of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF are controlling increasingly large tracts of wildlife areas in the country and some are believed to be supplementing their foreign currency income through elephant and rhino poaching there.
In 2013, poachers allegedly linked to well-know senior ZANU-PF members, police officers and Zimbabwe Wildlife Management officials used cyanide to kill more than 100 elephants in Hwange National Park (HNP).
This year, the country’s last free-roaming elephant herd, which is supposedly protected from hunting and culling by a Presidential decree, has come under threat. Defying a government directive, a woman named Elisabeth Pasalk, whose brother is a hunting safari operator, has illegally claimed part of the herd’s home range, established a safari lodge and declared the area a ‘conservancy’ – a common euphemism for ‘hunting concession’. Conservationists believe that the takeover was supported by “political influence from high places”, that illicit hunting is part of Pasalk’s plans and that the Presidential Elephants are the intended target. The Zimbabwean government has done nothing about the situation.
Time to act
The evidence is overwhelming: African governments are complicit in the wholesale slaughter of the continent’s wildlife heritage.
A number of them have made public commitments to stem the poaching tide. Tanzania, for instance, is a signatory of the 2014 London Conference Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade which calls for zero tolerance on corruption and President Kikwete has recently spoken in favour of a moratorium on all ivory sales. Yet Kikwete’s government has shown little intention of turning these promises into reality and remains deeply implicated in the disaster.
What’s needed is the political will to take drastic action – to identify and investigate corrupt activities related to wildlife crime at every level of government, to remove corrupt individuals – many of them well known – from office and to prosecute them under the provisions of the criminal justice system.
The international community, including CITES, bears part of the responsibility. By not fighting corruption vigorously enough, not sanctioning governments known to be corrupt, not enforcing international law, not establishing a total ban on international and domestic trading in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife commodities, and not calling for the destruction of all government stockpiles of such goods, they too are complicit in the unfolding catastrophe.
In July, the EIA and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) called on the US government to implement trade sanctions against Mozambique for its complicity in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Southern Africa. President Obama’s government is yet to heed this urgent call.
Eradicating corruption will not end the disaster. But if we don’t stop the systemic corruption which is facilitating it, Africa’s poaching crisis will be terminal – an extermination order for rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and countless other irreplaceable species that will not survive the century in the face of unbridled human greed.

The war on poaching cannot be won in the field unless we take on high-level corruption

By Paula Kahumbu

Corruption is what drives the vicious circle linking poverty to organised crime and is the root cause of the current poaching crisis

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard over an ivory haul seized overnight as it transited through Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard over an ivory haul seized as it transited through Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. The commitment and integrity of wildlife agencies is key in the war against the poachers. Photograph: TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

In order to win the war against poaching we have to understand its causes. There are two main explanations for why poaching is endemic and so hard to eradicate in developing countries.

The first explanation is that poaching is driven by organised crime. A recent, widely publicised report by Born Free: “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarisation and Professionalisation of Poaching in Africa”, details the web of corruption linking crime cartels to government officials, army officers and businessmen.

In buying the services of the individuals they need to oil the wheels of their criminal enterprises, the cartels achieve a degree of high level cooperation between the public and private sectors that development agencies can only dream of.

Evidence of the inner workings of crime syndicates is, naturally, hard to come by. But there is plenty of evidence of the involvement of corrupt officials and police officers in the illegal wildlife trade, such as the recent arrest of two police officers in Kenya.

In its conclusions, the Born Free report in calls for anti-poaching investment to be strategically re-focused on the traffickers and cartels.

The second explanation is that poaching is driven by poverty. An earlierIUCN report on elephant poaching provides statistics showing that child mortality and other povert indicators are correlated to poaching intensity. The general conclusion is that poverty drives people to poach.

In this scenario poachers are victims of poverty, but they are also the actual killers of elephants and rhinos, and this is where most governments currently have to invest anti-poaching efforts. But in the longer-term the only sustainable solution is development, to alleviate the poverty that is the cause of poaching.

There is no reason to believe that these two very different explanations contradict one another. Both are almost certainly true. The trade in ivory and other illegal wildlife products is complex, diverse and constantly evolving, like any other trade. Like any other business enterprise, the crime cartels are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to maximize their profits.

But: how are these two causes of poaching interconnected? In weighing up the evidence, we should bear the following points in mind:

(1) People are not criminals because they are poor. Africa is full of inspiring stories of community-based conservation and development initiatives: stories of poor people trying to make an honest living, using natural resources sustainably.

(2) You don’t have to be poor to be a criminal. Rhino horns are regularly the target of thieves in the UK as well – here also there is evidence that the crime cartels are in the background, masterminding operations.

(3) Any high-value, lightweight product is going to attract the attention of organised crime cartels, be it drugs, diamonds or illegal wildlife products.

Note that it is value of the product that matters, not whether or not it is intrinsically “illegal”. Cartels deal in prescription drugs as well as banned substances, in diamonds as well as rhino horns. This puts paid to arguments that legalising trade in rhino horn is the way to stop poaching.

Let’s look again at the conclusions of the IUCN report which shows a correlation between poaching and poverty. One of the first things that students of statistics are taught is that a correlation does not provide proof of causality. Poverty could be the cause of poaching, but the causal process could go in the other direction: could poaching could be the cause of poverty?

This might sound far-fetched, but poaching does contribute to poverty, by impoverishing communities of their natural capital which could be sustainably harvested or used through tourism for the benefit of wider society.

Poaching also introduces corruption and criminality into communities, leading to the incarceration of young working aged men. The insecurity brought by armed poachers threatens all investments – poachers are known to raid homes and markets for food, steal vehicles and even rape women.

The IUCN report finds that while areas where poverty is worst also see higher levels of elephant poaching, poor villagers do not benefit from the illicit ivory trade. Thus incomes for a few poachers are matched by threats to legitimate sources of income, driving the community greater into poverty and potentially into ever greater dependence on the poaching cartels.

I would argue that corruption what drives this vicious circle and is the root cause of the current poaching crisis. Corruption is the catalyst that binds poverty to organised crime and activates their full destructive potential.

Ingrained corruption in societies gives the cartels freedom of movement to exploit poor people and evade capture. Where corruption is already endemic, it is easy for criminals to further corrupt the system, taking advantage of existing networks developed, for example, for the drugs trade or human trafficking. Where there is no corruption, the cartels will take steps to introduce it.

Would a study of the statistics reveal a correlation between corruption and poaching in the MIKE countries? My guess is it would. Certainly there is evidence to support this hypothesis from one country, Botwana.

This country has long had a policy of zero tolerance for corruption. In the latest report issued by Transparency International, Botwana stands out on the map of Africa as having the continent’s lowest levels of corruption– lower than some European countries.

Botwana also has the largest population of elephants in Africa as well as the best record on poaching in Africa. In a desperate measure, Rhinos are now being moved to Botwana to put them beyond the reach of rampant poaching in neighbouring South Africa, where corruption is endemic at all levels of society.

Bungee-launch of a Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft in a demonstration in Namibia.

Drones are being introduced to protect elephants and rhinoceroses in African national parks. The photograph shows the bungee-launch of a Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft in a demonstration in Namibia. Photograph: © Falcon UAV launch – Helge Denker/WWF-Namibia

Governments and private donors, including the millionaire Howard Buffet, are rushing to Africa to support anti-poaching efforts with drones, helicopters, and more boots on the ground. This is a welcome sign of growing global awareness of the urgency of the situation. Wildlife protection agencies need state-of-the-art technology such as night vision equipment to combat the poachers, who are already using it.

But technology and manpower alone will not solve the problem so long as corruption is not dealt with. Anti-poaching investments in a country with good governance, like Botswana, will contribute towards effective surveillance and protection. But in corrupt countries, there is a real danger the money will end up funding the poachers instead.

In Kenya, there is chilling evidence of how sophisticated surveillance equipment like GPS locators, intended to protected rhinos, is being used by poachers, with the help of corrupt or frightened officials, to locate and target their prey.

The recent announcement of a substantial pay rise for Kenyan rangers protecting elephant and rhino sanctuaries is hugely welcome, a sign that the message that morale and commitment are as important as equipment is beginning to get through.

The corruption highlighted by Born Free Report is an insidious and largely unspoken and filthy threat, not only to African wildlife, but to society as a whole. But this threat is also an opportunity for environmentalists to achieve their long-held dream of mainstreaming the environment in national policy agendas.

To do so, local environmental activists must also become part of the mainstream, by uniting with other social forces in the broader struggle against corruption, and for a fair and just society where humans and animals alike are free to go about their legitimate business.

This article can be found in this link: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/may/05/war-on-poaching-cannot-be-won-unless-we-take-on-corruption