IFAW: South Africa, New Thread in the Ivory Web?

Asian officials yesterday intercepted a large-scale consignment of illegal ivory shipped from Cape Town, South Africa – the second such haul in less than two months.

In addition, two Chinese nationals appeared in court today in the city after they were arrested just before Christmas for illegal possession of 15 full elephant tusks and 22 partial tusks among other ivory items.

“It’s too soon to label Cape Town the latest transit point for illegal ivory en route to Asia, but the seizures and arrests of the last eight weeks are large enough to be sufficiently worrying and demand the immediate attention of local authorities,” said Jason Bell-Leask, Southern Africa Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme.

On Monday, customs officers in Port Klang, Malaysia discovered elephant tusks weighing 500 kgs and valued at £491,000, hidden in a container labelled ‘polyester and strand matting’. The port of origin was Cape Town.

Also in mid-November 2011, in Hong Kong, China, a consignment of 33 rhinoceros horns, 758 elephant ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, valued at a total of £11.2 million was intercepted in packages labelled ‘scrap plastic’ from a vessel that had earlier departed from the South African port.

Last year, 2011, has been cited by the organisation TRAFFIC as the worst ever for ivory seizures globally with a collective amount of 23 tonnes of ivory taken into custody, and showing a dramatic increase in the number of large scale seizures weighing over 800 kgs each. Most ivory is destined for Asian markets, the largest by far being China.

Saluting the efforts of customs authorities to end the smuggling of illegal ivory, IFAW warned that ivory trafficking continued to enrich international criminal syndicates and devastate biodiversity.

“For the time being, and until arrests, convictions and daunting penalties are applied to everyone in the trade, the indiscriminate slaughter of elephants will continue,” said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW’s Wildlife Crime and Consumption Programme. “Those involved in trading ivory are also involved in other high profile criminal activities.”

Working with INTERPOL, IFAW provides major support to Project WISDOM, an initiative that will tackle the horror of ivory trafficking and coordinate anti-ivory enforcement operations across Africa hopefully culminating in arrests, convictions and dealing a blow to ivory poachers and traffickers.

“The operations with INTERPOL are vital for saving elephants now but ultimately we need a complete ban on ivory trade if we are to stamp out the trade,” said Alie.