A Triangle of Vulnerability – Illicit Trafficking off the Swahili Coast

Reports such as this should serve as intelligence for any law enforcement entity within the region as well as countries impacted by such illegal activities downstream.

A triangle of vulnerability for illicit trafficking is emerging as a key geographic space along Africa’s eastern seaboard – the Swahili coast.
At one apex of this triangle is Zanzibar, a major hub for illicit trade for decades, but one that is currently assuming greater importance. Further south, another apex is northern Mozambique. This area is experiencing significant conflict and instability, and is increasingly a key through route for the illicit trafficking of heroin into the continent and wildlife products from the interior. The final apex of the triangle is out to sea: the Comoros islands, lying 290 kilometres offshore from northern Mozambique and north-east of Madagascar. Comoros is not yet a major trafficking hub, but perennial political instability and its connections into the wider sub-regional trafficking economy make it uniquely vulnerable as illicit trade continues to evolve along the wider Swahili coastal region. These three apexes are linked by illicit economies and trade routes which take little heed of modern political boundaries.

Two main factors underlie the illicit markets that form the primary focus of this study. First, the powerful market demand for illicit wildlife products from Asia (and China in particular), and second, the steady growth in the volumes of heroin moving down the coast, with landings being made further and further south. The Indian Ocean islands themselves have long had serious challenges with heroin trafficking and use, and these are being exacerbated. Developments in Zanzibar, northern Mozambique and Comoros will have a crucial impact on wider patterns of trafficking and trade across the Swahili coast as a whole. For example, as we doc- ument the trade in endangered species from Madagascar which flows to Zanzibar and Comoros, Madagascar is also seen as a potential risk area for an increase in heroin trafficking.

At the time of writing, the impact of COVID-19 in the wider region was just becoming clearer as countries entered lockdown and began to restrict some forms of trade. The effect of these developments on the illicit political economy will still unfold in time to come.

Source: A Triangle of Vulnerability – Illicit Trafficking off the Swahili Coast authored by Alastair Nelson, June 2020

Also read: The Heroin Coast

Botswana – Mystery death of 154 Elephants

Botswana is investigating the mysterious deaths of at least 154 elephants over two months in the northwest of the country, a wildlife official said on Monday, although poaching or poisoning have been ruled out.

“We are still awaiting results on the exact cause of death,” Regional Wildlife Coordinator Dimakatso Ntshebe told Reuters. 

The carcasses were found intact, suggesting they were not poached. Further investigations have also ruled out poisoning by humans and anthrax, which sometimes hits wildlife in this part of Botswana. 

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s, owing to well managed reserves. 

However, they are seen as a growing nuisance by farmers, whose crops have been destroyed by elephants roaming the southern African country. 

President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting, imposed by previous president Ian Khama, but the hunting season failed to take off in April as global travel restrictions meant hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries could not enter Botswana. 

Meanwhile, the Wildlife Department has undertaken an operation to relocate and dehorn all rhinos to tackle poaching in Botswana – mirroring efforts elsewhere in the region. 

The Okavango Delta rhino population has been the hardest hit, with 25 reported poached between December and the beginning of May, government figures show, as poachers take advantage of the absence of safari tourists during the pandemic. 

That compares with a total of 31 rhinos poached from October 2018 to December last year. 

“Both white rhino and black rhinos have been severely affected, necessitating the … relocation of highly endangered black rhinos (and) intensification of surveillance,” the Department said.

Source: Reuters, 15 June 2020

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

2 Rhinos and 30 Elephants Poached Every Day

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 →