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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

With record levels of global ivory seizures in 2013, mostly in ports, a new Interpol report highlights the need for greater information sharing to enable a more proactive and effective law enforcement response against trafficking syndicates.

Large-scale ivory shipments – each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants – point to the involvement of organized crime networks operating across multiple countries. Head of Interpol’s Environmental Security unit, David Higgins, said while there was a global recognition of the problems of elephant poaching and ivory smuggling, a more integrated approach was needed for a more effective response.

“Ivory seizures are clearly an important step in stopping this illicit trade, but this is just one part of a much bigger picture,” said Higgins. “If we are to target those individuals behind the killing of thousands of elephants every year, who are making millions at the cost of our wildlife with comparatively little risk, then we must address each and every stage of this criminal activity in a cohesive manner.

The report ‘Elephant Poaching and Ivory Trafficking in East Africa – Assessment for an effective law enforcement response’ was launched at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Residence in Nairobi, Kenya.

While poaching in Kenya has reduced due to more pressure by security agents on poachers, the country is being used as a transit route with the port of Mombasa becoming a favorite for poachers. The ivory is packaged in shipping containers for transport to the port, and interception of the majority of ivory has occurred in maritime ports with the loot hidden in shipment containers usually concealed by other lawful goods.

Uganda though a landlocked country is becoming a transit route for the ivory, mostly from Tanzania. Tanzania was the leading source of illegal ivory in the East African region last year. At the same time, the port of Mombasa accounted for the largest volume of seizures in Africa with a total of over 10 tonnes of illegal ivory intercepted between January and October 2013.

Approximately 30 elephants are killed in Tanzania daily amounting to more than 10,000 animals annually. An estimated 22,000 elephants were killed illegally continent wide in 2012.

Tanzania’s elephant population has continued to plummet in recent years and in Selous Game reserve which boasted the world second largest elephant population at 70,000 elephants in 2006, the numbers have fallen to an estimated 39,000 elephants in 2009 and currently stand at 13,084 elephants.

There is global concern about the problem. The Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, held in London this month, agreed key actions to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade. During the conference, chaired by Foreign Secretary William Hague and attended by the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, world leaders from over forty nations vowed to help save iconic species from the brink of extinction.

The London Declaration contains commitments for practical steps to end the illegal trade in rhino horn, tiger parts and elephant tusks that fuels criminal activity worth over $19 billion each year.

Key states, including Botswana, Chad, China, Gabon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Vietnam, along with the US and Russia, have signed up to actions that will help eradicate the demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement, and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by wildlife crime. Continue Reading…

Rhino poaching statistics (Department of Environmental Affairs)

Rhino poaching statistics (Department of Environmental Affairs)

The Department of Environmental Affairs today, 24 July 2013 released the Rhino Issue Management (RIM) Report which emanated from the national consultation process to facilitate a common understanding of the key issues related to the protection and conservation of South Africa’s rhino population. The release of the RIM report comes as the number of rhino poached in South Africa increased to 514. To access the report, Click Here!

The Kruger National Park continues to bear the brunt of poaching with 321 rhino poached since 1 January 2013, while 54 have been killed for their horns in Limpopo, 53 in North West and 43 in KwaZulu-Natal. A total of 143 alleged poachers have been arrested this year.

The final report submitted to the Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs in January 2013 has greatly assisted the department in reviewing and updating its rhino response strategy outlined in the National Strategy for the Safety and Security of the Rhinoceros Population of South Africa (NSSSRPSA).

The RIM report incorporates current thinking on sustainable rhino conservation by acknowledged rhino specialists, ecologists and a range of other experts. It encapsulates viewpoints from Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) both specialised and community based, civil society, and from traders, professional hunters, resource economists and ordinary citizens with a deep concern for the ethical and humane treatment of animals.

The consultation process resulted in clear agreement that the country’s rhinos should be conserved for the good of all humanity, and that every effort should be made to protect the threatened species from the sustained poaching onslaught by international syndicates earning huge profits from the sale of rhino horn.

The RIM report does, however, state that there is support to include commercial international trade in rhino horn as an integral part of South Africa’s comprehensive response strategy to address the continued illegal killing of rhinos. Source: Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa) 

black-rhino-2Rampant poaching in Africa is a cause of major concern to wildlife organizations. Many rhinos are killed every year mainly for Asian markets. In Vietnam, rhino horn is believed to be miraculous, able to heal cancer.

A total of 158 rhino have been poached since the beginning of the year, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. Over 630 rhino were killed by poachers in South Africa during 2012.

If the killing of rhinos continues to increase, African wild rhinos could disappear within a few years. The best protected rhinos live in Kenya. Four of them, known as northern white rhinos, are the last of their kind. Each one of them has four bodyguards to guarantee its survival. But most of the other 25,000 rhinos in Africa do not enjoy such protection. The trade in rhino horn is illegal. However it is flourishing, most of the horn coming from South Africa, where most rhinos live. Hunters are willing to pay up to 20,000 euros ($26,000) to shoot a rhino and take the trophy home.

Rhino poaching on the rise

Rhino poaching has increased tenfold in the last five years, according to the nature and animal protection organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The conference singled out Vietnam as the main importing country and Mozambique as a major transit country for rhino trafficking. This is the first time that countries were named at CITES.

Vietnamese believe that rhino horn powder can cure cancer

The two countries now have a few months’ time to address the problem constructively. Mozambique is poor but CITES’ regulations are also valid there. To learn how to fight against poachers effectively, the country may seek advice from environmental and conservation organizations. In the case of Vietnam, lack of political will seems to be the major problem. Even Vietnamese embassy staff were involved in the illegal horn trade. Vietnam is now under pressure. By January 2014, Vietnam as well as Mozambique have to prove that they are able to fight against horn trafficking from southern Africa, or else sanctions will be imposed.

Superstition hikes the price

In addition to stricter controls, the WWF and other animal welfare organizations are implementing awareness campaigns. In Vietnam there is a belief that the powder from the horn of the rhinoceros can help against fever, prevent a hangover or even cure cancer. These claims however, are dismissed by scientists. The horn consists of the same material as fingernails and hair. Nevertheless, Vietnamese are willing to pay more than 40,000 euros per kilogram, more than the price of gold.

Thousands of wild rhinos have been killed and their horns trafficked to Asia

South African biologist Duan Biggs says awareness campaigns and banning illegal trade control will not help to solve the problem. Shortly before the CITES conference, Biggs, together with three other scientists, wrote in the journal “Science”, calling for the legalization of the horn trade. “We have a buffer of a very healthy population of rhinos to work with,” Biggs said. He is convinced legalization is the right course to take. If that doesn’t work, it can always be stopped again. “If we wait longer and the current situation continues, we will lose the opportunity to try an alternative strategy.”

Legal breeding instead of illegal slaughter

Since horn grows like fingernails, rhinos should be bred specifically for the horn trade. The horn could be cut off when the animal is under anaesthetic. That way the animal doesn’t suffer pain. This is done to a quarter of the animals living in South African private game reserves, where dead animals’ horns are not allowed to be sold. If these horns are legally harvested and put on the market, prices and poaching would decrease, argues Biggs.

The WWF and many other organizations vehemently opposed the legalization theory. A boom in demand and even worse poaching could result if horns are on the market in large quantities and at cheaper prices. “A change from the elite-trend to mass-trend will be like lighting a fire that will be difficult to extinguish”, said a WWF spokesperson.

The dynamics of illegal rhino poaching paint a vivid reality. Is this really any different of narcotics and money-laundering, human-trafficking and counterfeiting? I think not. In many instances its the same ‘operators’ at play preying on weak human instinct and a complete lack of morals!  On the other hand I suppose, based on the reasoning of scientist Biggs, one could say legalising narcotics and prostitution would be the ‘right thing to do’ since we have a “buffer of healthy unemployed woman and youth” ???

rhino-1Dawie Groenewald of South Africa and 11 conspirators were arrested in September of 2010 on 1,872 counts of racketeering, including illegal trade of rhino horns. Among those arrested are two veterinarians, Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis, as well as several professional hunters. This case is one of the biggest wildlife cases seen in South Africa and has been postponed several times since 2010. It is currently scheduled for early May 2013.

Groenewald owns a big game farm in Polokwane, South Africa as well as Out Of Africa Adventurous Safaris. A burial site of over a dozen horn-less rhinos was found on his property in 2010. Investigators show that these rhinos are thought to have been purchased from the South African National Parks in 2007-2010. In order to increase his profit margin, Groenewald decided to slaughter the rhinos after removing their horns; thus eliminating any upkeep costs associated with live rhinos.

Rhino horns are worth up to $60,000 per kilo in parts of East Asia, namely China and Vietnam. They are thought to possess medicinal value, including curing cancer and small ailments such as fevers and headaches.  Rhino poaching in South Africa has been rising steadily over the past several years. According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, approximately 588 rhinos were poached in 2012. One could point to China and Vietnam’s increased affluence as having increased this demand.

Investigators have so far seized $6.8 million in assets from Groenewald, Toet, and Du Plessis. They also uncovered Valinor Trading CC, a “closed company” Groenewald used to launder money. However, this was not Groenewald’s first run in with the law. Groenewald is a former police officer and was discharged because of his ties to a car smuggling ring allegedly outfitted by ZANU PF, the ruling party of Zimbabwe’s notorious Robert Mugabe. Groenewald was arrested in Alabama in April 2010 for importing an unlawfully hunted leopard trophy. He was banned from the U.S. and ordered to pay a $30,000 fine as well as a $7,500 fee to the buyer in Alabama.

There is some evidence that the Groenewald Gang is part of a bigger international syndicate of illegal wildlife trafficking headed by high-ranking officials in Zimbabwe.

Groenewald and his associates are out of business, but many more like them remain. Poaching is a big business, and like any illicit business only exists at the scale it does because of the global shadow financial system. Money that Valinor Trading CC conceals becomes an illicit financial flow, and eventually must be deposited in a financial institution somewhere. Authorities have frozen $6.8 million of Groenewald’s assets, but who knows how much more is hiding behind a shell company’s bank account in some far-off tax haven.

It makes no sense that while Western countries work to protect endangered and threatened species from people like Groenewald and his clients, they simultaneously undermine these same policy goals by allowing money to be easily concealed. Article by Regina Morales who is a Policy Intern at Global Financial Integrity.