Sunday, January 15, 2012

Malaysian customs foils plot to smuggle in 500 kilograms worth of elephant tusks from South Africa

KUALA LUMPUR, (Xinhua) -- Malaysian custom officers seized a container with 500 kilograms of elephant tusks at a major port on Monday and foiled what appeared to be an unprecedented attempt by an international syndicate to smuggle the tusks into the country.

Selangor state Customs director Azis Yacub was quoted by local media as saying the elephant tusks, worth 2.4 million ringgit (764, 330.4 U.S. dollars), were hidden in 53 television set boxes in a container that arrived at Port Klang from Cape Town, South Africa.

"The goods were declared as polyester and nylon strand matting in the ship's bill of lading. The boxes were kept at the back of the container, along with some used tyres," Azis was quoted as saying.

Police believed that Malaysians are involved in the traffic and are now investigating a local forwarding company. Azis said this would be the first time a syndicate had tried to smuggle in elephant tusks.

Previously, traffickers had only used Malaysia's ports to transit such contraband, usually from Africa to far east countries.

Traffic in elephant tusks is illegal in the country. Azis said his officers would send the tusks to the wildlife department and the case is being investigated for false declaration and smuggling.

Source: Coastweek News

201: A horrific year for elephants, rhinos

As the year draws to a close, TRAFFIC has warned 2011 has seen a record number of large ivory seizures globally, reflecting the sharp rise in illegal ivory trade underway since 2007.
This comes at a time Zimbabwe police have arrested 144 poachers this year alone.

Poaching of rhino and elephants in Zimbabwe has been on the increase since the advent of the fast-track land resettlement programme.

Part of the seized ivory consignments may have originated from Zimbabwe.

According to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, 31 rifles, 226 rounds of live ammunition were also recovered.

Among the poachers were 125 Zimbabweans, seven Zambians, three Congolese, three South Africans and six Batswana.

Just recently, 31 Zambians were also arrested for poaching fish in prohibited zones along the mighty Zambezi River.

Parks director-general Vitalis Chadenga said poaching has become a major concern along the Zambezi Valley, whose mighty river is shared by eight countries at the southern tip of Africa.

Chadenga said poaching has exacerbated the dire circumstances of certain species — the jumbo and rhino.

He said some 23 black and white rhinos were killed in national parks and conservancies this year, while 37 poachers and illegal dealers in horns have been arrested.

Rhino and elephant remain a major target for poachers who sell their products on lucrative markets in Asia and the Middle East.

In addition, Chadenga said 88 elephants have died of thirst in the last three months, and many others were migrating to nearby countries in search of “greener pastures”.

Despite pumping in water 24 hours per day to avert the crisis, scorching temperatures have seen perennial waterholes and pans in the vast game park drying up and the water table “getting very low” resulting in boreholes failing to cope with demand.

Small game species have already succumbed to thirst en bloc around the water holes dotted around the dry park as they could not compete with big game and dangerous predators for the finite resources in the park.

These changing climatic conditions in Zimbabwe’s vast flagship wildlife sanctuary — Hwange National Park — have caused the death of large numbers of several endangered species including elephants, lions and black rhinos.

Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800kg in weight, that have taken place in 2011 — at least 13 of them.

This compares to six large seizures in 2010, whose total weight was just below 10 tonnes. A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 tonnes, a number that probably represents some 2 500 elephants or possibly more.

The most recent case to come to light was of 727 ivory pieces discovered on December 21 concealed inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, destined for Asia.

Over the last 12 months, most large seizures of illicit ivory from Africa have originated from either Kenyan or Tanzanian ports.

“In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for Etis (Elephant Trade Information System), this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures — 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants,” said TRAFFIC’S elephant expert Tom Milliken.

Milliken manages Etis, the illegal ivory trade monitoring system that TRAFFIC runs on behalf of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Etis holds the details of over 17 000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures that have taken place anywhere in the world since 1989.

Once the records of hundreds of smaller ivory seizures are at hand, 2011 could well prove be the worst year ever for elephants in the database.

“The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking. Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China or Thailand.”

The smugglers also appear to have shifted away from using air to sea freight; in early 2011, three of the large scale ivory seizures were at airports, but later in the year most were found in sea freight.

“The only common denominator in the trafficking is that the ivory departs Africa and arrives in Asia, but the routes are constantly changing, presumably reflecting where the smugglers gamble on being their best chance of eluding detection.”

In six of the large seizures in 2011, Malaysia has been a transit country in the supply chain, a role that TRAFFIC first drew attention to in 2009.

A typical example occurred earlier this month, when customs in Malaysia seized 1,4 tonnes of ivory (widely misreported as 15 tonnes) concealed inside a shipping container en route from Kenya to Cambodia.

Once inside Asia, the documentation accompanying an onward shipment is changed to make it appear as a local re-export, helping to conceal its origin from Africa.

“That’s an indication of the level of sophistication enforcement officers are up against in trying to outwit the criminal masterminds behind this insidious trade,” said Milliken.

“As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning.”

It is clear Africa is running short of financial resources to sustainably manage the burgeoning elephant population and fend off marauding poaching syndicates.

Source: Newsday, Zimbabwe

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rhino poaching deaths continue to increase in South Africa

January 12, 2012 – Despite increased law enforcement efforts, rhino poaching accelerated in South Africa last year. The country lost 448 rhinos to poaching in 2011, official government statistics reveal. The total includes 19 critically endangered black rhinos, of which fewer than 5,000 remain in the wild. In 2010, 333 South African rhinos were killed by poachers, nearly three times the number killed in 2009.

“The rate of poaching increase may appear to be faltering, but the bottom line is more rhinos than ever were poached in 2011,” said Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF’s wildlife trade policy analyst. “If left unchecked, poaching gangs could put the survival of these iconic species in jeopardy.”

More than half of South Africa’s rhino deaths occurred in world-famous Kruger National Park. The popular safari destination lost 252 rhinos in 2011, and witnessed the poaching of an additional eight rhinos in the first weeks of the new year, according to authorities from South Africa National Parks.

South African law enforcement officials made 232 poaching-related arrests in 2011, compared to 165 the previous year. Sentences imposed for rhino crimes have also increased in recent years, with poachers and horn smugglers receiving as long as 16 years in prison.

“Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia,” said Dr MornĂ© du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa. “Its not enough to bust the little guy; investigators need to shut down the kingpins organizing these criminal operations. Governments in Africa and Asia must work together across borders to stop the illegal trade.”

The recent upsurge in rhino poaching has been tied to increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item, as a post-partying cleanser, and also as a purported cancer cure.

“Rhino horn has gained popularity among wealthy Vietnamese elites and business people to give as a gift, when currying political favour, or taking as an antidote to overindulgence,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino trade expert. “But killing endangered rhinos to mitigate a hangover is a criminal way to see in the New Year,”

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine experts, rhino horn has no proven cancer treating properties. Contrary to popular myth, it has never been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has found that consumer demand in Vietnam is driving much of the rhino poaching. CITES has also ruled that Vietnam needs to show progress in curtailing illegal trade in rhino parts and derivatives.

“So far we have yet to see Vietnam respond to this ruling from CITES,” says O Criodain. “For that matter, CITES must put pressure on Vietnam to respond meaningfully, as it has done with other countries whose compliance with the Convention has been called into question.”

Because it is home to most of world’s rhinos, South Africa has been the epicentre of poaching. However, rhinos in other African and Asian range countries are also being targeted by poachers.

In October, WWF announced the extinction of rhinos in Vietnam. The last Javan rhinoceros in the country was killed by poachers and its horn removed. In Nepal, however, strong conservation and law enforcement efforts ensured that no rhinos were lost to poaching in 2011.

In both Africa and Asia, WWF and TRAFFIC are providing assistance to field rangers, criminal investigators, prosecutors, and customs authorities. Additionally, TRAFFIC has facilitated visits between South African and Vietnamese government officials to discuss deepening cooperation on law enforcement.

A bilateral treaty to ramp up law enforcement collaboration between South Africa and Vietnam was negotiated in September 2011 but still remains unsigned.

Source: WWF Media Desk