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The U.S. Embassy in South Africa’s office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) donated border enforcement equipment and tools to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) at their K-9 facility in Kempton Park today. The equipment will be utilized in support SARS’ efforts to safeguard the borders in South Africa. The donation, valuing more than $105,000, includes vehicle GPS units, field binoculars, night vision goggles, handheld thermal imagers, radiation detector/pagers, and contraband detection kits.

The donation is a part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding partnership with the government of South Africa to support border security, trade facilitation and combat wildlife trafficking. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn said, “Following South Africa’s success in hosting the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016, we are delighted to support your continued efforts. This equipment will be used to help conserve your incredibly diverse wildlife species, promote economic development, and combat the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade within your borders, across our borders, and globally. I am proud of the great work our South African and American teams have done together on these issues. Together, we are making a difference.”

An executive for Customs at SARS said, “from the South African perspective, we acknowledge and receive these ‘tools of the trade’ from the United States with gratitude. This donation will strengthen our long-lasting relationship with the United States, which has been assisting us since the 1990s. Our work together has helped us improve our fight against the illicit economy.”

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. As the United States’ first unified border entity, CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity. The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly six tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws.

Source:  APO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Pretoria, South Africa.

EcoWatch

South Africa should adopt a “shoot-to-kill” policy to show that it is serious about halting the country’s rhino poaching crisis. Like hell? Like hell, yeah!

This is the controversial view of two University of Botswana academics‚ who raised a storm by urging South Africa to adopt the highly controversial policy.

Writing in the latest issue of the SA Crime Quarterly journal‚ Goemeone Mogomotsi and Patricia Madigele argue that the policy‚ adopted in Botswana in 2013‚ was a “legitimate conservation strategy” and “a necessary evil” to protect rhinos from extinction.

Mogomotsi is a legal officer in the University of Botswana’s department of legal services‚ while Madigele is a resource economics scholar at the university’s Okavango Research Institute.

They argue that the policy has reduced poaching levels in Botswana by sending out a message that if anyone wanted to poach in South Africa’s northern neighbour‚ it was possible that “you may not go back to your country alive”.

“We believe parks are war zones and that rules and principles of war ought to be implemented‚” they argue in the journal’s special issue on environmental crime‚ published jointly by the Institute for Security Studies and the Centre of Criminology at the University of Cape Town.

Guest editor Annette Hübschle makes it clear that the journal’s publication of the shoot-to-kill proposal was not in any way an endorsement of the policy and also suggests it would not be allowed under South Africa’s constitution. Hübschle and journal editor Andrew Faull also comment that South Africa and many of its neighbours are constitutional democracies that had abolished the death penalty.

“Introducing ‘shoot-to-kill’ may catapult us back to the dark days of apartheid and colonialism where the rule of law and fair process were applied selectively; ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies target the lowest tiers of organised crime networks while the upper echelons remain untouchable‚” they said.

Mogomotsi and Madigele‚ however‚ contend that Section 49 of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act allowed police and other arresting authorities to use “lethal force” or “reasonably deadly force”.

 “It is hence our view that South Africa’s legislative framework allows for anti-poaching forces to be empowered to shoot at poachers if it is in the interests of their safety and the security of the endangered species. To the moralists‚ such a position is very difficult to accept; however we argue that it is a necessary evil‚ considering the obligation to protect rhinos from extinction. It appears poachers will do anything to ensure that they kill these animals‚ unless they are made aware of the possibility of their own death in the process.”

They also note that Africa’s elephant population had declined by as much as 50% from 1970 to the early 2000s‚ while the continent’s black rhino population had plummeted by 67% from 1960 to the early 2000s. They also state that Zimbabwe’s elephant population increased from 52 000 to 72 000 animals after that country adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in the later 1980s‚ adding that shoot-to-kill was “the only anti-poaching method that clearly signals that wild animals deserve to live”.

They argue that there is a real risk of rhinos becoming virtually extinct in several parts of Africa and that South Africa “seems unable to deal with sophisticated criminals‚ including poachers and wildlife trackers”.

“In light of the above‚ South Africa is encouraged to seriously consider the adoption and implementation of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. We believe that Botswana has demonstrated that its policies … deter poachers in general and rhino poachers in particular.”

A spokesman for Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has not responded so far to requests for comment on the controversial proposal.

However‚ senior SA National Parks rhino special projects leader Major General Johan Jooste has made it clear that he does not support such measures.

In a separate interview in SA Crime Quarterly‚ Jooste said legal officials met rangers on a regular basis to train them on the legal rules of engagement with armed poachers.

“They drill it into them that you cannot take the law into your own hands because it is not nice to see a fatality‚ nobody likes to see that. And‚ by the way‚ we don’t support shoot-to-kill‚ it will not solve the problem. It will only demean and degrade who and what we are.

“We get really emotional people who respond to the barbarity of poaching depicted in a photo‚ by saying ‘shoot them’. But we as law-abiding citizens have never given consent (to such acts)‚ no matter how angry we were.”

Jooste also told Hübschle there was no evidence that killing poachers would solve the problem.

“I have never seen (an example) where (killing poachers) helps. It is misleading when one is protecting some rhinos very well to say it’s because of ‘shoot-to-kill’.”

Jooste said he believed that law enforcement alone would not solve the horn-poaching crisis‚ though anti-poaching teams were obliged to “buy time” for now‚ while other solutions were sought at a global and regional level.

“We all wish that rhino poachers were gone so that we don’t have to live like we live. I was in Kruger (recently); we’re asking impossible things of people. The stress and emotional strain that this so-called war causes are not things we should extend one more day than is necessary.” Source: TimesLive

Vietnam-Ivory

Vietnamese authorities have seized nearly three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit, officials said on Sunday, the latest haul to spotlight the country’s key role in the global wildlife smuggling trade.

Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa found 2.7 tonnes of tusks inside cartons on the back of a truck that was on its way to Hanoi, according to their website.

“This is the largest seizure of smuggled ivory ever in Thanh Hoa province,” the report said.State media said the elephant tusks originated from South Africa.

The truck driver claimed he was unaware of what he was transporting, according to a report in state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

There are now believed to be some 415,000, with 30,000 illegally killed each year. Prices for a kilogramme of ivory can reach as high as US$1,100 (Dh4,040).

Vietnam outlawed the ivory trade in 1992 but the country remains a top market for ivory products prized locally for decorative purposes, or in traditional medicine despite having no proven medicinal qualities.

Weak law enforcement in the communist country has allowed a black market to flourish, and Vietnam is also a busy thoroughfare for tusks trafficked from Africa destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China.

Last October, Vietnam customs authorities discovered about 3.5 tonnes of elephant tusks at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh city, all in crates of wood, including a hefty two-tonne haul packed into a single shipment.

In 2015, 2.2 tonnes of tusks, originating from Mozambique, were discovered and seized northern Hai Phong port.

And last week authorities in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory, the largest haul in the city for three decades.

While low level couriers are sometimes arrested across Asia very few wildlife trafficking kingpins are brought to justice. Source: The National

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

Copy of Enhancing Images

At least 30 representatives of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recently met in Maseru – capital of the ‘Mountain Kingdom’ – Lesotho, to undertake a 5-day training workshop on the WCO Data Model, between 29 May to 2 June.

The training formed part of capacity building support to Member States to implement IT connectivity and information exchange between SACU Customs Administration. The training was facilitated by WCO Data Model Expert, Mr Carl Wilbers from South African Revenue Service (SARS) and GEFEG.FX software tool Expert, Mr. Martin Krusch from GEFEG, Germany.

The recent ratification of Annex E to the SACU agreement – on the use of Customs-2-Customs (C-2-C) Data Exchange between member states – paves the way for participating countries to exchange data within the terms of the agreement on the basis of the GNC Utility Block, also greed to by the respective member states. It also coincides with recent work on the establishment of a SACU Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) which must be implemented by the SACU countries in all export and transit data exchanges between themselves, respectively.

Just recently, in May 2017, the heads of SACU Customs administrations were presented a prototype demonstration of data exchange between the respective systems of the South African Revenue Service and the Swaziland Revenue Authority.

The WCO Data Model provides a maximum framework of standardized and harmonized sets of data and standard electronic messages (XML and EDIFACT) to be submitted by Trade for Cross-Border Regulatory Agencies such as Customs to accomplish formalities for the arrival, departure, transit and release of goods, means of transport and persons in international cross border trade.

The course was extremely comprehensive, providing SACU customs users the full spectrum of the power and capability which the GEFEG.FX software tool brings to the WCO’s Data Model. GEFEG is also the de facto Customs data modelling and data mapping tool for several customs and border authorities worldwide. It significantly enhances what was once very tedious work and simplifies the process of mapping data, ensuring that the user maintains alignment and consistency with the most up-to-date version of WCO data model. One of the more significant capabilities of the GEFEG.FX software is its reporting and publishing capability. For examples of this please visit the CITES electronic permitting toolkit and the EU Customs Data Model webpages, respectively. Pretty awesome indeed!

Users had the opportunity of mapping the SACU agreed data fields both manually as well as using the tool. The SACU group was able to add additional enhancements to its agreed data model, providing an added benefit of the work session.

Reserach by the University of Washington reveals a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the 1980s prompted the international community to ban ivory trading at the end of the decade. But more than a few loopholes remained, including the ability to import ivory to the US as hunting trophies, or if it was sourced from an animal that died of natural causes. But perhaps the most easily exploited was that which allowed the sale of ivory acquired before 1976, which inspired traders to pass off their goods as antiques for profit. Scientists have now used a form of carbon dating to determine the real age of ivory samples, with an early study revealing more than 90 percent of seized shipments came from animals that died within three years prior.

Humans tested a whole lot of nuclear bombs in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the upshots of this was the doubling of radioactive isotope carbon-14 in the atmosphere, which is in turn absorbed by plants. Because animals (and humans) eat plants, the isotope is passed onto our tissues, and because the concentration of carbon-14 is always declining, scientists can use the isotopic signatures of things like bones or tusks to gauge the age of the material.

This phenomenon, known as a “bomb carbon” signature, has been used to to estimate the age of human remains, trace cocaine trails through the Americas and identify fake whiskey, and now scientists have applied it to a stockpile of illegal ivory shipments seized between 2002 and 2014.

Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, together with scientists from the University of Utah, studied a total of 231 ivory samples to find only a single tusk from an elephant that had died more than six years before landing in the hands of authorities. More than 90 percent of the elephants from whom the ivory came had died less than three years prior. All of which suggests that not a whole lot of old ivory is being shipped out of Africa.

“This work provides for the first time actionable intelligence on how long it’s taking illegal ivory to reach the marketplace,” says Lesley Chesson, study’s co-author. “The answer: Not long at all, which suggests there are very well developed and large networks for moving ivory across Africa and out of the continent.” The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

kunio-addressing-cop17At the invitation of the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya addressed a “Ministerial Lekgotla” held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 23 September 2016 as an introduction to the CITES CoP 17 World Wildlife Conference.

During the high-level panel session, Secretary General Mikuriya focused on the role of Customs in facilitating legal trade and intercepting illegal trade in wildlife and on its link to CITES and Sustainable Development Goals.

He highlighted the WCO Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, which had been adopted in 2014 and aimed at drawing the attention of policy makers to environmental crime and at raising the priority of Customs operations in this area.

He also referred to the INAMA project (started in 2014) for technical and capacity building assistance for Customs on risk management, collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and institution building to enhance integrity.  Cooperation with the transport industry was also part of the WCO efforts to improve compliance, as exemplified in the Royal Foundation Task Force Declaration on Transport, adopted earlier this year.

The presence in Johannesburg of high-level delegations also provided an opportunity for the Executive Heads of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) to meet in order to further enhance the collaborative work with the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the UNODC, the World Bank and the WCO.

Fianlly, Secretary General Mikuriya also had a series of bilateral meetings with key partners, including with Executive Director Erik Solheim of the United Nations Environment Programme. Source: WCO

Singapore on Monday crushed and burnt almost eight tonnes of ivory confiscated over two years to try to deter smugglers as activists called for tighter enforcement.

Over 2,700 elephant tusks weighing 7.9 tonnes were fed into an industrial rock crusher before incineration.

It was the fist time seized ivory had been destroyed in Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a statement. Previous hauls were returned to the originating country, donated to museums or kept for education.

The tusks, estimated to be worth Sg$13 million ($9.6 million), were seized on four separate occasions between January 2014 and December 2015. In May 2015 some 2,000 tusks were found hidden in a shipment of tea leaves from Kenya.

“The public destruction of ivory sends a strong message that Singapore condemns illegal wildlife trade. By crushing the ivory, we ensure it does not re-enter the ivory market,” said Desmond Lee, a senior minister of state in the interior and national development ministry.

Singapore can do more to enforce strict anti-trafficking laws, said WWF-Singapore communications director Kim Stengert.

“There are illegal wildlife shipments caught in other ports after they came through Singapore. So we definitely need to step up efforts to enforce the strict rules,” he said.

The ivory trade has been banned since 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, of which Singapore is a signatory. Source: AFP News

Smuggled Ivory

In January 2014, while x-raying a Vietnam-bound container declared to hold cashews, Togolese port authorities saw something strange: ivory. Eventually, more than four tons was found, Africa’s largest seizure since the global ivory trade ban took effect in 1990. [Photo: Brent Stirton, National Geographic]

Last year, one of Kenya’s most adored elephants, Satao, was killed for his ivory. Poachers shot the bull elephant with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo East National Park, waited for him to die a painful death, and then hacked off his face to remove his massive tusks.

Poachers continue to kill an estimated 30,000 elephants a year, one every 15 minutes, fueled to a large extent by China’s love of ivory. Thirty-five years ago, there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa; now around 500,000 remain.

A recent documentary, 101 East, released by Al Jazeera, traces the poaching of elephants and smuggling of ivory from Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam through the port of Zanzibar to Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Hong Kong is one of the busiest ports in the world. It handled nearly 200,000 vessels last year and is a key transit hub for smugglers transporting ivory from Africa to China. Between 2000 and 2014, customs officials seized around 33 tons of ivory, taken from an estimated 11,000 elephants.

With the huge challenge faced by customs and other law enforcement agencies in West Africa, wildlife crime is on the rise. Regional traffickers and organized crime groups are exploiting weak, ineffective and inconsistent port controls throughout the region.

U.N. Action in Africa
To address the issue, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized a workshop in Accra, Ghana, from August 25 to 27 August, and in Dakar, Senegal, from August 31 to September 2. The objective was to provide training for national law enforcement agencies to better fight wildlife crime through the control of maritime containers. The workshop was led by trainers and experts from UNODC, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the CITES Management Authority.

The Container Control Programme has been developed jointly by UNODC and WCO to assist governments to create sustainable enforcement structures in selected sea and dry ports to minimize the risk of shipping containers being exploited for illicit drug trafficking and other transnational organized crime. The implementation of the program is an opportunity for UNODC to work with governments in establishing a unit dedicated to targeting and inspecting high-risk containers.

UNODC, in partnership with WCO, delivers basic training programs and provides technical and office equipment. For example, the equipment connects the units to the WCO’s ContainerCOMM – a restricted branch of the Customs Enforcement Network dedicated to sharing information worldwide on the use of containers for illicit trafficking.
Sustainability.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argues: “Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law, degrades ecosystems and severely hampers the efforts of rural communities striving to sustainably manage their natural resources.”

Wildlife trade is a transnational organized crime that raises profits of about $19 billion annually. In addition, it is often linked to other crimes such as arms trafficking, drug trafficking, corruption, money-laundering and terrorism – that can deprive developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenues.

Shipping
It’s hardly surprising that many of the big ivory seizures made in recent years have been detected in shipping containers, says Dr. Richard Thomas, Global Communications Coordinator for the environmental organization TRAFFIC. “Partly that’s due to the sheer quantity of ivory being moved (the largest-ever ivory seizure was 7.1 tons) – which from a practical and cost point of view makes sea carriage more attractive than air carriage.

“Also in the smugglers’ favor is the huge numbers of containers moved by sea. Some of the big ports in Asia deal with literally thousands of containers per day. Obviously it’s not practical or feasible to inspect each and every one, and that’s something the organized criminal gangs behind the trafficking rely upon.”

There’s lots of issues to be dealt with, says Thomas: For example, even when an enforcement agency makes a seizure, it’s not easy to find out who actually booked the passage for the container and who knew precisely what was in it and actually put it there. “That’s one area where transport companies can collaborate with enforcement agencies to assist follow-up enquiries. Obviously companies have records of where the container is headed too, obviously key information for follow-up actions,” says Thomas.

TRAFFIC recently ran a workshop in Bangkok under the auspices of the Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) project, targeting the movement of illicit wildlife cargoes across borders.

“The transport industry can serve as the eyes and ears of enforcement agencies as part of a global collaboration to eliminate the poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife commodities,” said Nick Ahlers, Leader of TRAFFIC’s Wildlife TRAPS project.

“To be successful, the entire logistics sector needs to be part of a united push to eliminate wildlife trafficking from supply chains. In particular, we would welcome participation from major shipping lines and the cargo and baggage-handling sector.”

If nothing is done to stop the ivory trade, Africa’s wild elephants could be gone in a few decades. Source: Reuters.

Related articles

Vietnam Ivory Seizure

Customs officers in Vietnam seized more than two tons of elephant tusks, eight days after confiscating an ivory shipment weighing nearly a ton, authorities said. Picture: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Customs officers in Vietnam seized more than two tons of elephant tusks, eight days after confiscating an ivory shipment weighing nearly a ton, authorities said on Monday.

The estimated 4.4 million dollars worth of ivory was disguised as logs and hidden within a shipment of timber from Nigeria.

The cargo was posted to the same company listed as the receiver for nearly a ton of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horn from Mozambique that was discovered on August 13, said Ho Xuan Tam, Da Nang Customs Department spokesman.

Company officials have denied wrongdoing.

The poaching of elephants and rhinoceros and the trafficking of their tusks and horns are outlawed under international efforts to protect endangered species. But the illicit trade from Africa to Asia has grown with rising prosperity creating demand in Vietnam and China.

While elephant ivory is valued for its aesthetic appeal, folk superstitions prize rhino horn for its supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.

A single gram of ground rhino horn possesses a street value of 133 dollars. Rhino killings reached a record 1 215 last year, 10 times the number killed in 2009, according to the conservation group WildAid. Source: IOL

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture - Carl de Souza - AFP]

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture – Carl de Souza – AFP]

Campaigners say rising demand in Asia is fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa and the smuggling of ivory

Campaigners say rising demand in Asia is fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa and the smuggling of ivory

Officials travelling to Tanzania with Chinese President Xi Jinping went on a buying spree for illegal ivory, an environmental activist group has said.

In a report, the Environmental Investigation Agency cited ivory merchants who said demand from the delegation in 2013 had sent prices soaring.

China denies the allegations, saying it consistently opposes poaching. Read the following blog – Tanzania – Chinese ivory spree during presidential visit. authored by Africa – News and Analysis.

Biggest bust of Rhino Horn at a South African airportSARS Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) last week intercepted over 41kg of rhino horns – with a total value of over R4.5 million – transiting through the airport. This is the biggest ever seizure of rhino horn by the SARS Customs team at OR Tambo International, Johannesburg.

As a result of profiling two foreign nationals travelling from Maputo to Vietnam via Johannesburg,  their baggage was intercepted during a stop-over at ORTIA. A Customs detector dog “Mimmo” reacted positively to two bags. The tags found on the bags also did not correspond to the tags presented to Customs officials during the initial questioning of the passengers. This is a practice commonly found with narcotics smuggling syndicates.

The bags had a strong garlic and glue smell, (a tactic to distract detector dogs). Further to the plastic wrapped horns, the zips of the bags were also glued in an effort to keep the odour intact and to make the inspection difficult. Subsequent physical inspection of the bags by Customs officials revealed the rhino horn allegedly being smuggled by the two travellers. Source: SARS

RhinoA new report released by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner TRAFFIC reveals that illegal rhino horn trade has reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, and illegal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011.

The report, Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment to improve law enforcement, is a key step to achieving USAID’s vision to adapt and deploy a range of development tools and interventions to significantly reduce illegal wildlife trafficking, USAID said in a September 22 press release. The report was prepared by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC in partnership with USAID. The assessment uses robust analysis to identify capacity gaps and key intervention points in countries combating wildlife trafficking.

Seizure data indicate that “the fundamental trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia,” according to the report. In China and Thailand, elephant ivory is fashioned into jewellery and carved into other decorative items, while wealthy consumers in Vietnam use rhino horn as a drug that they mistakenly believe cures hangovers and detoxifies the body.

Rhinos and elephants are under serious poaching pressure throughout Africa, with even previously safe populations collapsing. Central Africa’s forest elephants have been reduced by an estimated 76 percent over the past 12 years, while in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve elephant numbers have fallen from 70,000 in 2007 to only 13,000 by late 2013. A record 1,004 rhinos were poached in 2013 in South Africa alone, a stark contrast to the 13 animals poached there in 2007 before the latest crisis began.

Record quantities of ivory were seized worldwide between 2011 and 2013, with an alarming increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures (500 kg or more) since 2000. Preliminary data already show more large-scale ivory seizures in 2013 than in the previous 25 years. Although incomplete, 2013 raw data already represent the greatest quantity of ivory in these seizures in more than 25 years.

Both rhino horn and ivory trafficking are believed to function as Asian-run, African-based operations, with the syndicates increasingly relying on sophisticated technology to run their operations. In order to disrupt and apprehend the individuals behind them, the global response needs to be equally sophisticated, USAID said.

“There’s no single solution to addressing the poaching crisis in Africa, and while the criminals master-minding and profiting from the trafficking have gotten smarter, so too must enforcement agencies, who need to improve collaborative efforts in order to disrupt the criminal syndicates involved in this illicit trade,” says Nick Ahlers, the leader of the Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife-TRAPS) Project.

The USAID-funded Wildlife-TRAPS Project seeks to transform the level of cooperation among those affected by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia.

Rhino horn is often smuggled by air, using international airports as transit points between source countries in Africa and demand countries in Asia. Since 2009, the majority of ivory shipments have involved African seaports, increasingly coming out of East Africa. As fewer than 5 percent of export containers are examined in seaports, wildlife law enforcement relies greatly on gathering and acting on intelligence to detect illegal ivory shipments.

The report recommends further developing coordinated, specialized intelligence units to disrupt organized criminal networks by identifying key individuals and financial flows and making more high-level arrests. Also critically important are improved training, law enforcement technology, and monitoring judiciary processes at key locations in Africa and Asia.

The full text of the report (PDF, 1.6MB) is available on the USAID website. Source: USAID

Desert black rhinoceros, South Africa [Picture credit: africagreenmedia.co.za

Desert black rhinoceros, South Africa [Picture credit: africagreenmedia.co.za

South Africa has made no final proposal on legalising the global rhino horn trade as a way of reducing the level of rhino poaching in the country, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Friday, rebutting recent media reports on the issue.

Last year, the Cabinet authorised the department to explore the possible legalisation of the rhino horn trade at the 17th conference of the parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which takes place in 2016.

However, the department said, “no final proposal has been compiled, or decision made, regarding the future legal trade in rhino horn as an additional intervention to reduce the levels of poaching”.

The department said it had appointed a panel of experts, chaired by the department’s Fundisile Mketeni, to assist the inter-ministerial committee tasked by the Cabinet with weighing up a proposal on the trade in rhino horn.

The panel had started its work and would, in the coming months, listen to all sides of the trade debate before submitting a set of recommendations to the committee.

South Africa’s proposal would be tabled at CITES in 2016, and would be based on sound research, uninfluenced by any individuals or groups seeking to make a profit or by any group opposed to the country’s sustainable usage policies, the department said.

“South Africa believes that the decision to table a proposal at the next CITES COP is timeous, and may be a step towards addressing the scourge. South Africa is however not in any way insinuating that the possible trade in rhino horns would be a panacea to the problem of poaching.”

South Africa, which is home to more than 80% of the world’s rhino population, has been facing an onslaught from poaching syndicates since 2008. Since the start of this year alone, 442 rhinos have been poached and 123 suspected poachers arrested in the country.

The department has taken a number of steps in response, including increasing the numbers of rangers in its parks, as well as improving regional and international collaboration with both rhino “range” and rhino horn “consumer” countries. Source: SAnews.gov.za