CITES, WWF and TRAFFIC release new guide to identify smuggled ivory

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC recently publish the Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutesa comprehensive and accessible resource for identifying the most commonly found ivories and artificial substitutes in trade. This is a vital tool to assist law enforcement in identifying trafficked ivory in particular.

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero stated, “The much-awaited 4th edition of the Guidewill be a key tool in the regulation of the international trade of several CITES-listed species. Through it, we reaffirm our commitment to support CITES Parties to achieve the objectives of the Convention and combat wildlife crime.”

Last reviewed in 1999, more than two decades of advancements have been incorporated into the Guide to help law enforcement agencies distinguish between types of ivories and their substitutes, including detailed graphics and forensic applications for ivory identification. Accurate identification is critical potentially to prevent illegal ivory products from being smuggled or illegally traded and to curb the poaching crisis decimating African elephant populations.

In the past dozen years, there has been a surge in the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks. In a Decision made at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in 2016, Parties agreed that the guide required updating to help with identification of elephant ivory due to the increased enforcement activity and the growing number of substitute ivory types entering the market, making it challenging to determine elephant ivory from other types.

The Guide provides enforcement officers, forensic scientists, online technology company enforcement staff and wildlife trade management authorities with detailed procedures, visual aids and instructions for recognizing ivory products, particularly those that have undergone heavy alterations such as carving and painting.

Ivory products can sometimes be falsely labelled in trade to avoid regulations, particularly to circumvent the international commercial trade ban in elephant ivory. The range of ivories and substitutes can be difficult to recognize without specific equipment, expertise and time-consuming examinations.

The Guide includes updated descriptions of ivories from different species and their products found in trade, and reliable, telltale methods used to determine ivory types depending on the form of product, such as tusk/tooth, carving, or other items.

The new Guide includes details on the most relevant species— elephants, mammoths, whales, narwhals and hippos— as well as more extensive visual materials to aid enforcement officers in identifying elephant ivories from ivory substitutes, such as plastics and vegetable ivory. The Guide also addresses the sale of ivory products online, where an increasing share of illegal elephant ivory trade is now taking place and where identification of static digital images can be challenging.

“Even today, it is still challenging to identify ivory,” said Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President for Wildlife Conservation at WWF-US. “We are in a time of increased illicit trade in elephant ivory and a proliferation of trade in other ivories, like mammoth and artificial substitutes, that make it difficult to distinguish the origin of the ivory. We must also contend with the flourishing online trade and extensive criminal efforts to avoid detection or to sell fraudulent products.”

Addressing the CoP17 decision, the CITES Secretariat commissioned WWF and TRAFFIC to develop the Guide. Some of the original authors and forensics experts working at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensic Laboratory (USFWS) were involved in the update. Additional research on online trade and overall guide production was completed by WWF-US and TRAFFIC. The guide now includes an extract from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime 2014 report, Guidelines on methods and procedures for ivory sampling and laboratory analysis,published in cooperation with the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). The Guide will be published in Chinese, French and Spanish language versions.

Crawford Allan, Senior Director, TRAFFIC, stated, “The ivory experts from the USFWS Wildlife Forensic Laboratory are commended for updating and expanding the morphology section of this definitive guide.  It will be used in training programs for law enforcement and supporting a wide range of enforcement and conservation applications, including helping online companies with blocking listings of prohibited elephant ivory from their platforms. Ramping up the pressure is vital to keep illegal trade in ivories in check.”

This publication was made possible with the support from the European Union (through the CITES CoP17 Decisions implementation project).

Source: CITES

“Trophy Hunters Exposed” by Eduardo Goncalves

Five years ago, a dentist from Minnesota killed Cecil the lion, Hwange National Park’s most famous resident. This caused an outcry in the United Kingdom and in the rest of the world against trophy hunting. Yet people are still killing big game for sport.

A new book reveals explosive insight into hidden world of trophy hunting. The book was written by Eduardo Goncalves, a former WWF consultant, CEO of a major UK animal charity, journalist award-winning founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting which is supported by over 100 celebrities.

Eduardo Goncalves is currently leading an international campaign to close a loophole in CITES wildlife trade laws which controversially allow trophy hunters to shoot critically endangered animals. The campaign is supported by dozens of conservation groups as well as Members of the European Parliament across the EU and political parties. He is also working with wildlife and animal welfare groups across Europe to ban hunting trophy imports throughout the EU, and is assembling a group of lawyers and senior politicians to push for an international treaty banning all trophy hunting around the world.

Among the astonishing revelations in the book are how –

  • Powerful trophy hunting bodies are posing as conservation organisations in order to weaken wildlife conservation laws, so that hunters can shoot and take home trophies of threatened species
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – the body meant to protect wildlife – is allowing trophy hunters to shoot tens of thousands of animals at risk of extinction every year
  • Steven Chancellor, a leading fundraiser for US President Donald Trump, broke the world record for the biggest ever trophy lion
  • A former Vladimir Putin right-hand man is one of the world’s ‘top’ trophy hunters and has hunting trophies of more than 250 species at his home 60km outside Moscow
  • Prestigious industry awards have been bestowed on a paramilitary death squad leader linked to the deaths of more than 1 million dissidents and ethnic minorities
  • Michel Bergerac, a record-breaking trophy hunter and member of Safari Club International, was also a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Director
  • The US Salvation Army and Boy Scouts Association is helping the industry to recruit tens of thousands of children as hunters: psychologists and criminologists fear this could lead to a rise in violent crime
  • The trophy hunting industry made contributions totalling over $1 million to the congressional election campaigns of pro-hunting politicians including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (who was responsible for America’s hunting laws and trophy import regulations), US Senate leader Mitch McDonnell, and House of Representatives speaker John Boehner
  • A trophy hunter still alive today is thought to be the only man in history to have killed 100+ lions and 1,000 elephants, and has more than 4,000 confirmed kills
  • The use of trophy hunting as a ‘cover’ for wildlife trafficking, and how the Chinese are now the world’s top hunters of white rhinos

The book also reveals –

  • The identity of over 500 hunters who have won industry awards for shooting all the ‘African Big Five’ – lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalos
  • Scientists fear that South Africa’s canned lion hunting industry, and the sale of lion bones for traditional Chinese medicines, could spark a devastating new disease outbreak
  • Some of the industry’s top donors and hunting group leaders include Trump fundraiser Steven Chancellor, well-known drinks brands (Budweiser, the Bacardi family), vehicle manufacturers (Yamaha), oil companies (Chevron, Halliburton, Shell Oil), banking institutions (Morgan Stanley), gun-makers (Beretta)
  • Controversial funding has come from US schools, the Scouts Association, and American and European taxpayers.

Trophy Hunters Exposed – Inside the Big Game Industry’ is published by Green Future Books Ltd and is available in paperback and kindle from  www.greenfuturebooks.com

Proceeds will be donated to the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting

For background about the author, see https://edgoncalves.wordpress.com/about/

Source: Review by the African Conservation Foundation, 4 June 2020

Top Wildlife Detective Shot in Cold Blood

Recent good news reports indicating a decrease in rhino poaching have been marred by the sudden death of one of law enforcements top detectives.

Colleagues and friends of Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Bruwer are in shock after the leading rhino-poaching detective was gunned down in an apparent assassination.

Leroy (49), commander of the Hawks in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), was shot dead in his car on Tuesday morning while on his way to work.

The investigation is ongoing but according to a police statement, he was shot with a heavy-calibre weapon.

Pieter Smit, commander of the Mbombela police’s quick-response unit, says his heart broke when he arrived on the scene and saw his colleague and friend’s lifeless body.

“Hate, sadness and tears with mixed feelings,” Pieter, who was one of the first people to arrive on the scene, wrote on Facebook.

Leroy’s body had been unrecognisably mutilated by the AK-47 gunfire, Pieter continued his Facebook post. He says the only way he knew it was Leroy is because he called his friend’s number and saw the cellphone ringing in the car.

“It breaks the heart of a grown man. Leroy, you were an honest policeman and worthy officer. You didn’t deserve this.

“I salute you. Rest in peace, colleague and friend.” 

Brigadier Hangwani Malaudzi, Hawks spokesman, says a specialised task team has been formed to investigate the murder. “We’re hoping for a breakthrough soon.”

He adds Leroy was a formidable detective and made many breakthroughs in the fight against rhino poaching.

“All the evidence points to Leroy having been the target. It looks like an assassination,” Malaudzi says.

Police are following up on all leads to find the suspects.

Source: Picture and article by Jacques Myburgh, News24, 19 March 2020

Cooperative Law Enforcement forces Rhino Poaching into decline

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries recently released a report on rhino poaching in the country for 2019. Minister Barbara Creecy said wildlife trafficking constitutes a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security.

“The aim is to establish an integrated strategic framework for an intelligence-led, well-resourced, multidisciplinary and consolidated law enforcement approach to focus and direct law enforcement’s ability supported by the whole of government and society.”

She paid tribute to rangers who battle poaching in the conservation areas on a daily basis. In 2018, 769 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. During 2019, rhino poaching declined, with 594 rhinos poached nationally during the year.

This decline can be attributed to a combination of measures implemented in line with government’s strategy, including improved capabilities to react to poaching incidents, linked to better situational awareness and deployment of technology; improved information collection and sharing among law enforcement authorities; better regional and national cooperation and more meaningful involvement of the private sector, NGOs and donors.

“A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of the diligent work of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers,” Creecy said.

Some 2 014 incursions and poacher activities were recorded in the Kruger National Park (KNP) in 2019. A total of 327 rhino were lost as a result of poaching.

The department reported that 31 elephants were poached in South Africa in 2019. Of them, 30 animals were in the KNP and one in Mapungubwe National Park.

This is a decrease in the number of elephants poached in 2018, when 71 were killed for their tusks. During 2019, some successes have also been recorded through the number of arrests and convictions linked to rhino poaching and the illicit trade in rhino horn, that reflects the joint and integrated work of law enforcement entities, including the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of SAPS, the Hawks, SANParks, provincial park authorities and environmental management inspectors (Green Scorpions) and Customs as well as the National Prosecuting Authority.

High-profile cases that remain on the court roll in the Lowveld include:

  • State vs Jospeh Nyalungu and nine others in Nelspruit Regional Court. Provisional date for trial is May 25.
  • State vs Rodney Landela in Skukuza Regional Court. Trial date set for
  • February 19.
  • State vs Petrus Sydney Mabuza, Nozwelo Mahumane, Moshe Thobela and Romez Khoza. Trial date set in the High Court of Mpumalanga in Mbombela for July 27 and August 14.
  • State vs Petrus Sydney Mabuza and Joseph Nyalunga. Trial date set in the High Court of Mpumalanga in Mbombela on May 25 to June 19.

Since the last report on the rhino poaching situation and efforts being made to address the crime, rhino horn samples have been received for analysis from Vietnam to determine if the horns confiscated are linked to crimes in South Africa.

The Hawks have also received very good cooperation from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan in their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

While acutely aware that criminal elements will continue to take advantage of the socioeconomic pressures and drive demand for illegal wildlife products, the department said it was working with a number of communities, NGOs and donors, and identified various community developmental programmes, including awareness programmes.

Source: Hazyview Herald, 13 February 2020

Ivory – Vietnam remains a threat to Elephants

Exposing the Hydra - IvoryDespite being the focus of numerous investigations and exposés regarding the country’s role in the international illegal wildlife trade, Vietnam continues to be a primary hub for ivory trafficking.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report Exposing the Hydra: The growing role of Vietnamese syndicates in ivory trafficking documenting the findings of a two-year undercover investigation. (Download the full report at this hyperlink).

Investigators successfully infiltrated several ivory trafficking syndicates operating in Mozambique, South Africa, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, building a detailed picture of how these criminal organizations are structured, how they cooperate with one another and how they also traffic other endangered species such as rhinos and pangolins.

In contrast to China, which closed its domestic legal ivory market in January and stepped up enforcement against ivory trafficking, the Government of Vietnam has not demonstrated serious commitment to tackling wildlife crime, says the organization. Instead, the past decade has seen Vietnam serve as a prominent transit route for large ivory shipments to China as well as overseeing a growing carving industry and one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory sales.

The report states that since 2009, 56 tons of ivory have been seized in Vietnam and a further 20 tons linked to Vietnam seized in other countries. This is equivalent to ivory sourced from approximately 11,414 elephants.

EIA estimates that since 2015 the ivory traffickers identified during the course of their investigation have been linked to seizures totalling 6.3 tons of ivory and 299 kilograms of rhino horn, including the recent record seizure of 50 rhino horns in Malaysia in August 2018. Between January 2016 and November 2017 there were at least 22 successful shipments of ivory from Africa, with an estimated weight of 19 tons and potential revenue of $14 million.

Source: EIA International and Maritime Executive, 16 September 2018

SA Documentary on Rhino Poaching wins International Award

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War, is getting a lot of attention all the way around the world at the moment and its clear to see why!

The film tells the shocking and touching story of the ongoing poaching of the rhinos and the trade in its coveted horn. Four years in the making, this labour of love saw de Bod and director Susan Scott sell their houses, leave their jobs and move in with their mothers in order to document what is happening in the fight to save the rhino from extinction.

The locally made documentary film, has just been awarded the 2018 Green Tenacity Award by the judges of the Eighth Annual San Francisco Green Film Festival, coming ahead of the film’s world premiere at the festival which will run from Thursday September 6 through to Friday, September 14. STROOP was one of 26 final films selected out of 350 submissions and one of five to win awards – a huge credit for producer, Bonné de Bod.

It was supposed to be a 6-month project but soon turned in to a dangerous and intense expedition for which the passionate duo often found themselves in immense danger. In an exclusive first, de Bod and Scott filmed special ranger units inside the world-famous Kruger National Park and at the home of the white rhino, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park and travelled undercover to the dangerous back rooms of wildlife traffickers and dealers in China and Vietnam.

The result is a hard-hitting – and ultimately moving – documentary that challenges and shocks viewers.

Says Bonné “We are over the moon at receiving this prestigious award and it makes all our hard work and dedication to this film that much more worthwhile. Hopefully, it also means that the recognition will create additional awareness and encourage even more people to see the film when it releases.”

According to the festival’s criteria, the Green Tenacity Award is given to filmmakers “who show great tenacity in exploring crucial environmental issues in their work.”

Made solely with crowdfunding and grants – the film shows why this hunted and targeted species deserves to live in dignity, free from exploitation by illegal traders, poachers, money men and corrupt governments.

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War will premiere in South Africa in February 2019 after its film festival run overseas.

Source: sandtonchronicle.co.za, 22 August 2018.

Massive Rhino Horn bust in Malaysia

Malaysia Rhino Horn Bust

Malaysia has made a record seizure of 50 rhino horns worth an estimated $12 million at Kuala Lumpur airport as they were being flown to Vietnam, authorities said Monday.

Customs officials found the parts in cardboard boxes on August 13 in the cargo terminal of the capital’s airport, said Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, head of Malaysia’s wildlife department.

The 50 rhino horns weighed 116 kilogrammes (256 pounds) and are worth about 50 million ringgit ($12 million), he told AFP, adding that the seizure was “the biggest ever in (Malaysia’s) history in terms of the number of horns and value”.

Vietnam is a hot market for rhino horn, which is believed to have medicinal properties and is in high demand among the communist nation’s growing middle class.

Trade in rhino horn was banned globally in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but illegal hunters have decimated rhino populations to sate rampant demand in East Asia.

A single kilo of rhino horn can fetch tens of thousands of dollars in the region, where many falsely believe it can cure cancer.

All rhino species are under threat of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Abdul Kadir said authorities were unable to identify the origin of the animal parts. Rhino horn sent to Asia typically comes from Africa.

Officials also found a huge stash of animal bones—believed to be from tigers and leopards—in the same shipment, with an estimated value of 500,000 ringgit.

Authorities have not made any arrests over the seizures.

Elizabeth John, from wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, described the rhino horn seizure as “staggering” and urged authorities to track down the people behind the smuggling attempt.

Kuala Lumpur is a hub for cheap flights around Southeast Asia, and has become a key transit point in the smuggling of rare animal parts.

Source: AFP, 20 August 2018

USCBP donates border protection equipment to SARS

CBPSARS3

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.

Should Rangers be allowed to kill poachers on sight?

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 seizes 3 tons of ivory smuggled from South Africa

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

Record 7,2 Tonne Ivory Seizure in Hong Kong

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.

WCO Data Model – speaking the ‘Global Customs Language’ in the Maluti’s

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.

Yesterday’s nuclear testing reveals the brutality of today’s illegal ivory trade

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.

WCO addresses a “Ministerial Lekgotla” as an introduction to the CITES Conference in Johannesburg

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 destroys 8 tonnes of illegal ivory

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