Archives For ivory

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

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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

High Tech Game Park

Almost the size of Pretoria, this 62,000 hectare private reserve on the border with Kruger National Park has upped its game against poaching.

What was once an operation with a handful anti-poachers patrolling an electric fence and hiding in watch towers has now been turned into a 21st century fortress in the bush.

This is all thanks to a pilot project called “Connected Conservation“, a collaboration between 48 private lodge owners, the tech company Cisco, and Dimension Data, the data solutions company.

While there had been great initiatives to protect the rhino over the years, these were reactive and the number of these animals being killed were increasing at an alarming rate. By combining tech thermal imaging cameras and thumb-print scanners with things like sniffer dogs, the reserve tracks the movement of people before they get close to endangered animals.

Since it began in 2015, the upgrades have brought about a 96% reduction in rhino poaching incursions, as well as reducing illegal incursions into the reserve by 68%. Key to the success has been reducing ranger response time from 30 minutes to 7 minutes.

Source: Business Insider, original article and photo by Caboz, J, 9 May 2018.

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.

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.

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.

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