Alarm bells over ivory smug­glers’ new tricks

Smug­glers get smarter and avoid los­ing tonnes of ivory to hawkeyed au­thor­i­ties. They now process and carve ivory on site at se­cret work­shops, then dis­patch these to Asia in small batches

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - By AL­LAN OLINGO The Eastafrican

P≥ocess­ing and ca≥ving done on site to avoid hawk-eyed au­tho≥ities

Just when re­ports in­di­cate East Africa’s ele­phant pop­u­la­tion is ris­ing, thanks to in­ten­si­fied anti-poach­ing ef­forts by gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing high-pro­file ar­rests and sub­se­quent jail terms, ivory smug­glers are re­sort­ing to il­le­gal pro­cess­ing sites in Cen­tral and West Africa.

At these cen­tres, the car­tels turn raw ivory into fin­ished prod­ucts, which are then shipped to Asian mar­kets.

“As­sess­ing data as­so­ci­ated with seizures of com­mer­cial quan­ti­ties of worked ivory sup­ports these al­le­ga­tions. Com­par­ing in­ter­na­tional trade trans­ac­tions from Africa that were trans­ported by air, post or sea in two three-year pe­ri­ods of time (2014-2016), sug­gests that the weight of such seizures has roughly dou­bled,” a re­port by the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species (Cites) says.

The pro­cess­ing sites come at a time when ivory man­u­fac­tur­ing in China, Hong Kong and Thai­land has no­tice­ably con­tracted or is slated for of­fi­cial clo­sure come 2018.

In the past three years, Nige­ria, Côte d’ivoire, Mozam­bique, An­gola, South Africa, Kenya, Zim­babwe, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo have been the lead­ing coun­tries of ori­gin for ivory ex­ports.

They also ac­count for the great­est num­ber of seizures and quan­ti­ties of worked ivory prod­ucts mov­ing out of Africa mostly by air.

“Whether ivory pro­cess­ing op­er­a­tions for ex­port are oc­cur­ring in all of these coun­tries re­mains to be es­tab­lished,

but Nige­ria, Côte d’ivoire, Mozam­bique, An­gola, South Africa, Kenya, Zim­babwe, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, as well as Congo were all pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied as hav­ing ivory carv­ing in­dus­tries that ap­peared to be ser­vic­ing de­mand in Asia with the pro­duc­tion of key generic prod­ucts such as ban­gles, name seals and chop­sticks,” the re­port says.

Out of the 4,053 tonnes of worked ivory seized, Nige­ria led with more than 769kg.

In the re­gion, Ethiopia led with 350kg, fol­lowed by Kenya with 336kg and Uganda with 160kg.

In terms of des­ti­na­tion, nearly three-quar­ters of these ivory prod­ucts were des­tined for the greater China mar­ket, in­clud­ing the Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gions (SAR) of Hong Kong and Ma­cao. This trade ac­counted for over 60 per cent of the to­tal weight in both pe­ri­ods.

The next des­ti­na­tion for this trade was Viet­nam, which rep­re­sented eight per cent of the to­tal num­ber of seizures and 16 per cent of the to­tal weight.

Egypt, which has an un­reg­u­lated do­mes­tic ivory in­dus­try of its own, was the most im­por­tant non-asian des­ti­na­tion.

Great­est threats

Ac­cord­ing to Cites, ex­pa­tri­aterun carv­ing op­er­a­tions for ex­port have de­vel­oped in re­cent years with Chi­nese op­er­a­tives in Congo, who were for­merly just en­gaged in traf­fick­ing raw ivory to Asia, but are now set­ting up ivory carv­ing op­er­a­tions them­selves and reg­u­larly ex­port small quan­ti­ties of worked ivory items.

“This was be­ing done to min­imise fi­nan­cial losses from seizures of large raw ivory ship­ments. It was ex­plained that Chi­nese net­works were able to un­der­take holis­tic op­er­a­tions that in­cluded ob­tain­ing ivory from source lo­ca­tions, trans­port­ing such ivory to carv­ing sites, run­ning pro­cess­ing op­er­a­tions us­ing Asian carvers and ex­port­ing the ivory prod­ucts to Asian mar­kets,” the re­port says.

Tom Mil­liken, who man­ages the Ele­phant Trade In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem (ETIS), said that these find­ings show a volatile and un­set­tled ivory trade equa­tion as trade pat­terns shift as traf­fick­ers look­ing to find eas­ier ways to carry on their trade.

“We have not turned the cor­ner yet on the ele­phant poach­ing cri­sis and it is im­per­a­tive now, more than ever, to keep up the pres­sure to stop the poach­ers and ivory traf­fick­ers by ad­dress­ing emerg­ing trade dy­nam­ics. These in­clude un­earthing ivory pro­cess­ing sites and on­line trad­ing chan­nels that cur­rently re­main be­yond the reach of ef­fec­tive law en­force­ment every­where,” Mr Mil­liken said.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the si­t­u­a­tion in the re­gion is, how­ever, look­ing bright. At three sites in Tan­za­nia and one in Kenya, less than half the num­ber of ele­phant car­casses were recorded in 2016 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.

Tan­za­nia re­mains the re­gion’s ele­phant pop­u­la­tion strong­hold al­though num­bers in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are also sta­ble or ris­ing, as are some pop­u­la­tions in South­ern Africa.

Surge in poach­ing

Cites sec­re­tary-gen­eral John Scan­lon said that the re­gion has been badly af­fected by the surge in poach­ing over the past 10 years, and has ex­pe­ri­enced an al­most 50 per cent re­duc­tion in ele­phant pop­u­la­tions.

“How­ever, there has been a steady de­cline in poach­ing lev­els since their peak in 2011, and the anal­y­sis from 2016 con­cludes that over­all poach­ing trends have now dropped to pre-2008 lev­els. At the same time, 2016 recorded the high­est level of seizures of il­le­gally traded ivory by weight since com­mer­cial in­ter­na­tional trade was banned by Cites in 1989,” Mr Scan­lon said.

The re­port also shows that African ele­phants are not evenly dis­trib­uted across their range, with South­ern Africa host­ing the bulk of the pop­u­la­tion at 71 per cent fol­lowed by East Africa at 20 per cent, Cen­tral Africa at six per cent and West Africa at three per cent of the con­ti­nen­tal pop­u­la­tion.

How­ever, while much of the cur­rent con­ser­va­tion fo­cus is on the threat of poach­ing, in the medium to long-term, hu­man ex­pan­sion into ele­phant habi­tats, civil un­rest and cli­mate change are all likely to con­sti­tute the great­est threats to the sur­vival of the species.

“Around 33 eco­nomic ‘de­vel­op­ment cor­ri­dors’ have been planned, or are be­ing im­ple­mented al­ready, across Africa and if com­pleted would to­tal over 53,000km in length.

These are, there­fore, likely to sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact ele­phant pop­u­la­tions across their range, al­though the pro­por­tion of crit­i­cal ele­phant range that falls into these cor­ri­dors is cur­rently un­known and ur­gently needs to be as­sessed,” it says.

Man­ag­ing stock­piles

Last year, Kenya’s Save the Ele­phant or­gan­i­sa­tion man­aged to track five ele­phants in t h e Tsavo ecosys­tem cross­ing the stan­dard gauge rail­way at el­e­vated points be­neath the rail­way tracks and the Voi-taveta road.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion was track­ing these jum­bos through satel­lite ra­dio track­ing col­lars in a bid to un­der­stand how their move­ments are in­flu­enced by the project. Some ac­tivists had said that the rail­way would af­fect the an­i­mal’s cor­ri­dor hence putting them in harm’s way. The re­port comes barely a month to next month’s cru­cial meet­ing of Cites in Geneva Switzer­land from Novem­ber 27, where Kenya will lead Burk­ina Faso, Congo, and Niger to push for de­struc­tion of ivory stock­piles and seek guid­ance for the man­age­ment of stock­piles, in­clud­ing their dis­posal. Cites has also set its eyes on Japan, which it ac­cuses of be­ing lax in im­ple­ment­ing a ban on the do­mes­tic ivory mar­ket, an al­le­ga­tion the coun­try de­nied, not­ing that it has a sig­nif­i­cant ivory mar­ket but that it does not con­tain il­le­gal ivory and that the re­cent Cites rec­om­men­da­tion on clo­sure of do­mes­tic mar­kets does not ap­ply. “The law will en­ter into force by June 1, 2018 and will re­place the reg­u­la­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing and sales of ivory prod­ucts, cur­rently based on a no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, with stricter reg­u­la­tion, re­quir­ing reg­is­tra­tion of a busi­ness. This will now see ap­pli­cants in­ter­ested in man­u­fac­tur­ing and sale of ivory prod­ucts screened through the reg­is­tra­tion process and given a five-year li­cense,” Japan says in its de­fence. The coun­try also said that in April this year, its Cus­toms de­part­ment con­ducted dis­cus­sion with China Cus­toms of­fi­cers on pre­vent­ing the smug­gling of ivory and pos­si­ble co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the Cus­toms au­thor­i­ties of the two coun­tries.

Japan’s po­si­tion

“While en­forc­ing the new reg­u­la­tions will be crit­i­cal to deter­ring il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, Japan’s do­mes­tic ivory mar­ket is still full loop­holes that leak sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ties of ivory to other mar­kets, such as China...”

“Given that the par­ties to Cites last year rec­om­mended the clo­sure of do­mes­tic ivory mar­kets that con­trib­ute to poach­ing and il­le­gal trade, an over­haul of Japan’s mar­ket over­sight and reg­u­la­tion is ur­gently needed to en­sure that it does not un­der­mine the global fight against il­le­gal ivory trade,” Traf­fic’s re­gional di­rec­tor for East A m h o th cl in a T p d e fa e h c tr C re o

Pic­ture: AFP

A Cus­toms of­fi­cer guards 7.2 tonnes of ivory seized in Hong Kong in July.

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