Friday, May 13, 2011

Breakthrough in tracking Africa elephant ivory

The German-based International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation has called on owners and hunters of African elephant ivory to donate ivory samples to support a new research project which seeks to create a geographical database to determine the age and origins of African ivory and is expected provide a breakthrough that will assist law enforcement agencies in fighting international ivory poaching and smuggling syndicates.

In a statement released to the media, the council said the project , which will be run by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the International Centre for Ivory Studies, seeks to create a database through which ivory traded on the international markets can be traced back to the country or geographical region of origin in line with the African Elephant Action Plan of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The statement added that the project seeks to end the anonymity and timelessness of ivory which makes it possible for poachers and traffickers to trade in illicit ivory on the international markets once it leaves its country of origin.

"The major objectives of the project are to create a reference database for the geographical origin of African elephant ivory and to develop a readily available precise method for the designation of the age of ivory. The entire undertaking is part of Germany's contribution to the implementation of the CITES African Elephant Action Plan and in particular its strategy 1.4 which is "Strengthening the enforcement of laws relevant to conservation and management of African elephants," the council statement reads.

The project is expected to be completed by early 2013 and researchers hope it will provide a useful and readily available enforcement tool to assist in the fight against illegal trade in ivory, thereby equipping African elephant range states with better means of controlling all ivory trade done under CITES.

"The scientific results of the development and the validation of the research methods will be published in scientific journals. In addition the database will be presented to the national CITES authorities of the African elephant range states and to the international community of states. Furthermore plans are underway to inform all CITES parties about the details of the research project and the practical application methods during a side-event at the 16th Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, Thailand in 2013."

The main African elephant range states, which include Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania are facing serious problems of elephant and rhino poaching by locally grown and international syndicates which smuggle the ivory to the Far Eastern markets, mainly in China, Vietnam and Thailand. Chinese syndicates operating under the cover of legal businesses in Zimbabwe have also been linked to the escalation of elephant and rhino poaching across the country.

Conservationists blame the 'Look East' policy adopted by President Robert Mugabe for opening the country up to Chinese syndicates which have set up legal business fronts to cover their poaching activities and to make it easy to smuggle ivory back home to China. Last year, a Chinese citizen was arrested while trying to smuggle a crate of ivory to Beijing through the Harare International Airport. At about the same time, another Chinese citizen was arrested on landing in Beijing from Zimbabwe after being found with 36 pieces of raw ivory without the necessary permits.


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