IFAW: East Africa a Clearing House for Illegal Ivory

(London– 15 November 2012) Three record-sized ivory confiscations in just three weeks have put a further dent in East Africa’s growing image as a clearing house for the bloody illegal ivory trade.

They are a bleak reflection of the prediction by James Isiche, Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Eastern Africa, who said yesterday: “At this rate, it might only be a matter of weeks before we get reports of another big ivory seizure implicating Kenya and Tanzania, the two major conduits or sources, or both, of large consignments of illegal ivory in the last two years.”

This week Dubai customs announced it had intercepted a consignment of 215 elephant tusks valued at £2.59 million being shipped to Hong Kong from Kenya. They were concealed in bags marked as ‘red beans’.

Two weeks ago, on 31 October, Tanzania made one of its biggest ivory busts ever when police found more than 200 tusks valued at £0.83 million hidden in a coffin and bags marked “fertilizer”. The contraband was being sent to Kenya from Dar-es-Salaam. Three suspects, including two Kenyans, were arrested.

And on 20 October, Hong Kong seized a record smashing 3.81 tonnes of illegal ivory – the largest ever in China and the largest worldwide in two years. The ivory comprised 1,209 tusks and ivory pieces and was found on board two ships from Tanzania and Kenya, and marked as ‘plastic scrap’ and ‘rose coco’ beans.

Isiche said the trend of ivory seizures globally was ominous, and raised the spectre of the heydays of the 1970s and 1980s when elephant and rhino poaching reached their zenith.
Writing in Kenya’s Daily Nation yesterday he said: “The need for Kenyan law enforcement authorities to stamp out poaching and work in collaboration with other African elephant range states to seal off ivory trafficking routes cannot be overstated.

“The government owes its citizenry an explanation for the rife poaching and numerous seizures of ivory in Asia which have transited from Kenya. We need to know what action has been or is being taken against these criminals who seem to be acting with arrogant impunity,” he said.

IFAW Middle East Regional Director, Elsayed Mohamed, said it was not surprising the illegal wildlife trade had targeted Dubai as a transit point for illegal ivory.

“Dubai is a major centre for import and export, connected to many different trade routes, which make it a popular centre for international trade. It is not surprising that wildlife trade is part of this mix,” said Mohamed.

“IFAW congratulates the Dubai Custom Authority and Ministry of Environment for their efforts in preventing the illegal wildlife trade by not only confiscating this shipment of elephant tusks but also for the confiscation of several other illegal wildlife shipments.”

IFAW assists Dubai Customs in training their officers in the prevention of wildlife trafficking.

Jason Bell, Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme, said the last 24 months have been among the most deadly ever for elephants.

“In 2011, in total, authorities seized close to 24.3 tonnes of illegal ivory – the biggest amount in 23 years – and, in the first quarter of 2012, poachers in Cameroon slaughtered an estimated 650 elephants for their ivory,” said Bell.

“It is clear that elephants are under more threat today than they have been in a long time”.

Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and coveted as “white gold”. Limited availability of legal ivory China purchased from the stockpile sale from southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs. IFAW says an estimated 25,000-50,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011.

Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.

This is part of a worldwide capacity building initiative by IFAW which trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.

For more information, photos or to arrange interviews please contact Christina Pretorius (IFAW Elephant Programme) – Tel: +27 21 701 8642; Mobile: +27 82 330 2558; Email: cpretorius@ifaw.org