Thursday, March 22, 2012

Interpol launches biggest crackdown on African ivory traders

Interpol is carrying out the largest anti-elephant ivory poaching operation ever mounted following mass killings in Africa.

Wildlife agents in 14 different African countries have been raiding outlets and hunting down traders to crack down on the multi-million pound industry. Operation Worthy, as it is being called, is aimed at stifling the increasing demand in illegal elephant ivory, mostly from Asian countries such as China.

The operation, which has been co-ordinated by Interpol's Environmental Crime Programme and funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has already had some success.

Several dozen people have been arrested and the agents have recovered what they describe as "significant" amounts of illegal wildlife products - including more than 250kg of raw ivory but also lion and leopard pelts, python and crocodile skins and live birds.

The operation follows a terrible year for elephants in 2011.It was the worst year on record for ivory seizures - and only last week a team of wildlife workers for IFAW reported an unprecedented slaughter of elephants in Cameroon.

"This is about bringing hard-nosed criminals to justice and stopping the cruelty that has been inflicted on thousands of elephants and rhinos," said Kelvin Alie, the director of IFAW's Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme.

One of the main exit points for elephant ivory is Kenya and the Sky team was taken to see a huge stockpile of confiscated ivory near the capital, Nairobi.

We have been asked not to identify where we were taken for fear it will be raided and the ivory stolen.

Elephant ivory is big business and protecting the elephants can be a dangerous occupation. As we arrived, the rangers from the Kenyan Wildlife Service told us a female ranger had died that day trying to protect the elephants in her charge.

We were taken through heavily bolted doors to see dozens and dozens of tusks. They filled three rooms. The guard drew my attention to a stack of 12 crates - all filled with ivory hidden among avocados before being spotted by customs officers.

This was just one consignment - with each tusk with a street value of about £40,000 on the black market. They haven't yet decided what to do with the illegal ivory - and what to do with it is a big problem.

In 2008, the ban on ivory sales was lifted to allow for the trade of 108 tons of ivory stocks from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to China and Japan. The sell-off did dispense with old stocks but it also boosted demand - and worringly provided an ideal cover for illicit ivory sales.

China's rapid economic expansion into Africa has also inadvertently led to an upsurge in demand for ivory products. With Chinese buyers now prevalent in many African countries, the criminal syndicates ordering the tusks have a ready market.

The rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service fear the poaching is already depleting elephant stocks to a dangerous level.

Patrick Omondi, the assistant senior director of Kenyan Wildlife Service told Sky News: "We are already seeing populations of elephants disappear. And Kenya cannot fight this war on its own.

"We need the whole international community to come together to fight this or I fear the elephant will eventually become extinct in parts of Africa."

Source: Radio KL.FM 96

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