Tag Archives: wildlife crime

How wildlife crime links us all to conflicts in Africa

Editorial, New Scientist
15 May 2014

The funding of Boko Haram’s atrocities by the illegal ivory trade show that poaching is not just a problem for conservationists, but for all of us

MORE than 200 girls abducted by terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria; 23,000 African elephants killed for their tusks last year. On the surface all these crimes have in common is that they happened on the same continent. But there is an intimate connection: like many terrorist organisations in Africa, Boko Haram is funded by sales of illegal ivory (see “Ivory poaching funds most war and terrorism in Africa”).

Elephant poaching is usually framed as a conservation issue. But increasingly it is a national security and humanitarian one, too. According to a recent report from Born Free USA and data analyst C4ADS, ivory has become the “bush currency” militants, terrorists and rebels use to buy weapons and fund operations. Government corruption is thought to play its part too.

Most of this ivory ends up in east Asia, where demand is high and rising. According to the report, a single tusk can fetch $15,000.

The link between ivory and violence adds even more urgency to the need to quash this deadly trade. Previous campaigns to cut demand for ivory by reducing its acceptability have had an impact. As they have been replicated with other products such as shark-fin soup, this suggests that wildlife crimecan be tackled in this way. Such campaigns always include a strong element of awareness-raising. The fact that ivory is used to bankroll conflicts provides yet more ammunition that conservationists should exploit.

Of course, the ivory trade is only one part of a web of wildlife crime that is itself part of a global criminal network dealing in drugs, weapons and people. Cutting demand for ivory won’t on its own defuse Africa’s conflicts. Militants will simply plunder other resources such as hardwood or the mineral coltan, which may end up as furniture in your house or electrical components in your cellphone.

When it comes to wildlife crime, it is easy to point the finger at Chinese demand for ivory, rhino horn and tiger penis while forgetting that all consumers contribute to some extent.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated $20 billion a year; some of that money ends up funding groups like Boko Haram and their violent ideology. It is time for a global awareness campaign to alert us all to the ways we encourage the slaughter of endangered animals, the dubious trade in scarce natural resources and the terrorisation of vulnerable people.

Kenya: Magistrates Lenient On Wildlife Traffickers


WildlifeDirect has been studying the conclusion of wildlife crime cases at Nairobi’s Makadara court which handles all arrests made at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Already this year there have been at least 45 arrests.

Out of 45 arrests 84% were offenders of nationalities from the Far East (42% were Chinese, and 39% Vietnamese, another 11% Thai and 2% from Laos).

41 of the offenders, or 93%, had ivory. Six individuals had ivory and lion claws, two had snake skin. One Vietnamese man had 5 rhino horns.

Apart from one case where the file was incomplete, all of the offenders pleaded guilty.

Earlier this year WildlifeDirect began drawing attention to the release of offenders at Makadara court on petty fines when the current law actually allows for up to 10 years for offences against elephant and rhino or trafficking in their products.

Things seemed to turn around when Chinese woman Chen Bie Mei was arrested at JKIA with 6.8 kg of ivory packaged as macadamia nuts, she pleaded guilty and to her surprise was jailed for 2 years 7 months on August 15th.

Kenyans celebrated, they thought that things had changed. However, our follow-up research shows hat this was a rare occurrence. In fact, only 3 people have been sent to jail for crimes against elephants and rhino at Makadara court this year. That’s less than 7% – ie if you are caught with ivory or rhino horn at JKIA, the probability of going to jail is less than 1 in 12.

This is surprising given the economic impact of the slaughter of elephants and rhino, especially in light of the fact that the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, Cap 376 for 10 years in jail for offenses involving elephant, rhino and lion.

The magistrates have been more than lenient – in 7 cases where offenders pleaded guilty, magistrates discharged them and set them free!!

Sadly the situation is even wore than this, some files were missing from the court. For example, on 1st July KWS reported the arrest at JKIA of a Sudanese Achol Kuil Reng with ivory bangles, and American former colonel David McNevin Thoreau (known locally as Thor) with .8 kg of ivory. Mr. McNevin is a former colonel with the US Embassy. Both pleaded guilty and were released with fines. Neither file was available at Makadara court.

The fact that magistrates at the Makadara court are routinely releasing offenders from the Far East using this excuse means that Kenya could inadvertently be enabling an infamous global syndicate to operate with impunity. This flies in the face of the presidents commitment to fighting the poaching of elephants, and ignore the global alarm about the crisis.

For example, the American Government has recently advertised a 1 million dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of members of the Xaysavang Network. The Xaysavang Network is one of Asias’ largest wildlife -trafficking syndicates.

Particularly upseeting is the case of Vietnamese man Le Manh Cuong caught with 5 rhino horns while in transit at JKIA. The value of these horns is estimated at about Ksh 40 million. The offender had arrived from Maputo Mozambique where rhinos went extinct this year – they may have come from South Africa just across the border where 860 rhino have been poached already this year in an all time record for rhino poaching.

Our researcher was told by a court official that Cuong was released on a fine of Ksh 10,000. We have been unable to verify this because the file was missing.

In reference to this case the Chief Magistrate at the Makadara Court, said this to the researcher:

“The judges and magistrates in Kenya have to work with the available laws. They can’t use laws that have not been passed by parliament to pass judgments. We know the laws are very lenient but you people have to get the parliament to pass tougher laws and penalties. This way, something can be done for the elephants. Also the people who are been arrested at the airports are mostly on transit so the laws have to be specific on how to handle such traffickers.”

That the law is silent about seizures made in transit is notwithstanding, the magistrates are clearly willing to fine the offenders in transit but jail them.

With the much anticipated passing of the new wildlife law Kenyans must monitor wildlife crime cases to ensure that magistrates apply the full force of the existing or new laws to save our heritage.

This original article can be found in this link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201311290746.html

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.”