Thursday, September 25, 2014

South African rhino poaching syndicate busted with R22 million worth of rhino horn goes on trial

Ten members of a suspected rhino poaching syndicate were on Monday remanded in police custody until their formal bail application. According to police’s Paul Ramaloko, the suspects allegedly illegally obtained 84 rhino horns and killed 22 rhinos valued at nearly R22 million. “The intelligence-led arrest comes after a year-long investigation by key stakeholders in government and the private sector,” said Ramaloko. Ramaloko added one of the accused, Hugo Ras, is believed to have managed the syndicate for five years before his arrest on Friday. “The team arrested the other members of this criminal group simultaneously in Polokwane in Limpopo, Ficksburg in the Free State, Potchefstroom in the North West, and in Montana, Mamelodi and Kameeldrift in Gauteng,” he said. The suspects, Ras, his wife, Trudie Ras, and his brothers, Anton Ras and Arno Smith, Bonnie Steyn, a pilot from Ficksburg, Willie Oosthuizen, a warrant officer of the Hawks in Pretoria, Joseph Wilkinson, an attorney from Pretoria, Christoffel Scheepers, Mandla Magagula and Willem van Jaarsveld briefly appeared in the Hatfield Magistrate’s Court on several rhino-poaching charges. Ramaloko said the group contributed to the brutal slaughter and mutilation of 24 rhinos in state-owned and privately owned game reserves. “Only two of the 24 rhinos that were attacked, survived, but they were dehorned after they were darted. The 34 horns were either stolen or obtained through other devious means,” he said. The National Head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat said they will continue to address these types of syndicates. “They have no sympathy towards our already endangered species – rhinos. It is clear that they have no regard for the rule of law,” he said. The syndicate mainly operated in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal. They are expected to appear in court on 29 September. Source: Conservation Action

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

African black rhino population declines to less than 5 000 - experts

The number of black rhinos in Africa has declined to less than 5 000 in 2014 following increased poaching activities by international ivory cartels, regional wildlife experts have said. Speaking at a recent launch of the Highway Africa Pan-African Conference on black rhino poaching at the Amakhala Game Reserve in Grahamstown, South Africa, Reserve Protection Agency director general Scott Williams said if governments do not impose stiff sentences on poachers, the black rhino will soon be extinct. “Well-organised and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn. Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status. "High levels of consumption – especially the escalating demand in Vietnam – threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades in preserving the black rhino,” Williams said. With an average weight of 7 kilograms per each rhino horn, it can generate an estimated $90 000 per kilogram on the illegal market. International mineral trade markets show that a rhino horn can sell for up to £60 000 per kg while valued minerals such as platinum and gold only fetch £33 973 and £26 865 per kilogram respectively. The Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group says between 2013 and 2014, a minimum of 2 387 black rhinos were poached in 11 of the 12 rhino range states in Africa. The bulk of the poaching was recorded in South Africa were 1 805 rhinos were killed followed by 382 in Zimbabwe and 112 in Kenya, while Uganda has no poaching records, Zambia recorded one case, while Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland each recorded two cases each. The SSC says if poaching continues at current levels, rhino populations could start to decline and in less than two years’ time be extinct. Amakhala Foundation co-director Jennifer Gush said the demand for the rhino horn is fuelled by the increasing wealth of many middle-class Chinese and Vietnamese who see the horn as a status symbol and its alleged traditional medicinal benefits. “A Vietnamese diplomat was caught buying illegal rhino horns outside the embassy in Pretoria and her punishment was simply a recall back to Hanoi, but to the rhino population, this punishment is not enough,” Gush said. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation Commission for Africa chairperson Walter Mzembi, said governments will continue to fight poaching activities in the region to ensure the preservation of bio-diversity, flora and fauna for tourism purposes. “African governments have agreed to apply a zero tolerance approach and sentence those convicted to maximum and deterrent penalties to combat an upsurge in poaching and smuggling of ivory. “We will use a combination of existing laws and strengthened regulatory frameworks for investigation, arrest, seizure and prosecution of suspected wildlife criminals,” Mzembi said. Source: The Zimbabwe Mail

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chinese man pleads guilty to smuggling 14 rhino horns out of Namibia

ONE of the Chinese men accused of attempting to smuggle 14 rhino horns out of Namibia nearly six months ago has offered to plead guilty to the charges that he and two co-accused are facing. Public prosecutor Eric Naikaku told Magistrate Alpha Haihambo in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court in Katutura yesterday that Li Zhibing (53) has tendered to plead guilty in the case in which he and two fellow Chinese citizens, Pu Xunin (49) and Li Xiaoliang (30), are charged with the possession and export of controlled wildlife products. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
THE ACCUSED CHINESE CITIZENS: LI XIALONG (OBSTRUCTED), LI ZHIBING AND PU XUEXIN. LIN ZHIBING HAS PLEADED GULITY TO ALL THE CHARGES HE FACES, WHICH ARE THE SAME AS THOSE FACED BY HIS ACCOMPLICES. THEY HAVE PLEADED NOT GUILTY. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The State was not ready to accept the plea of guilty offered by the accused, though, and he also received instructions to add a new charge to the two counts already faced by the three men, Naikaku said. He said it would take about three to four weeks for the police to get further witness statements in the case, and asked the magistrate to postpone the three men's case for further investigations to be carried out. On a request from defence lawyer Orben Sibeya the magistrate ordered that the further postponement, to 9 October, would be a final remand of the case for further investigations to be done. The three men were arrested and charged with possessing and exporting controlled wildlife products after 14 rhino horns and a leopard skin were found in two suitcases that Li Zhibing and Li Xiaoliang had checked in as part of their luggage on a flight with which they were supposed to leave Namibia on 24 March. The three accused claimed during a bail hearing in May that they did not know what was in the suitcases. Li Zhibing claimed that a Chinese citizen living in Zambia had asked him to take the suitcases with him to China. He said he was promised US$3 000 as payment if he delivered the suitcases to someone in Shanghai. He also told the court that he had asked Li Xiaoliang to book one of the suitcases in as part of his luggage. Pu denied having any involvement with or knowledge of the suitcases. A senior police officer testified during the bail hearing that closed-circuit television footage, recorded at the hotel where the three men stayed in Windhoek the night before they tried to take a flight out of Namibia, showed that the two suitcases in which the rhino horns were found had been kept in Pu's hotel room before it was moved to the room of the two Lis. The officer also told the court that DNA tests done in South Africa confirmed that the rhino horns found in the two suitcases were of Namibian origin. Li Xiaoliang testified that he first visited Namibia as a tourist in October last year. He was paying a second visit to Namibia as a tourist when he was arrested in March, he said. Li Zhibing's version during the bail hearing was that he was visiting Namibia to look for construction work, while Pu said he had travelled to Namibia for a holiday and to explore business opportunities. The three men travelled together from Beijing to Lusaka in Zambia two weeks before their arrest and entered Namibia at a border post in the Zambezi region on 12 March, the court was also informed during the bail hearing. The three accused remain in custody after their request to be granted bail was turned down. Source: Namibian

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Namibia deploys drones on anti-poaching patrols as Chinese syndicates deplete rhinos, elephants

Namibia deploys UAVs for anti-poaching operations Written by Oscar Nkala, Wednesday, 10 September 2014 A Falcon UAV.The Namibian government has deployed three Falcon Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in conservancies to support the anti-poaching operations by the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) as part of a new 'aggressive' strategy to combat an upsurge in the poaching of elephants and rhinos. Namibia settled for the Falcon UAVs after successful week-long test flights on anti-poaching operations over conservancies around the country in February this year. The programme is funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) through its Wildlife Crime Technology Project. Several other types of UAVs were test-flown in the selection programme and these include the locally-made SurVoyeur, which is still being test-flown for possible adoption by the government after modifications. Environment and Tourism minister Uahekua Herunga told the Namibian Sun that the deployment of the UAVs signals the start of a new, agressive government strategy to combat an alarming upsurge in the poaching of rhinos and elephants. He said the country had so far deployed 3 UAVs on anti-poaching operations over affected game parks but will raise the number to eight if it gets additional funding for the programme. READ MORE Kenyan game reserve forced to cancel plans to use UAVs to counter poaching Kenyan game reserve evaluates UAV to counter poaching Buy an RPA, save a salmon Tanzania considering US proposal to use drones in anti-poaching ops “We have managed to deploy three drones (UAVs) at the moment. If we are able to deploy one in each of the affected regions, we will get better results. We need to have a budgetary allocation for the anti-poaching unit included in the overall budget for the ministry. If we get financing, I think seven to eight drones would be able to do a proper job," Herunga said. The ministry also wants additional emergency funding from the government to support the setting up of a rapid reaction Anti Poaching Unit (APU) of the security forces. It is also seeking technical assistance in training more parks rangers on how to operate the UAVs as well as interpreting and processing the information they supply. “There was no provision for financing the anti-poaching unit in the current budget. Drones are a new technology, our staff have to know how they operate, we need a lot of training to operate the drones," Herunga said. The first three UAVs will continue running on a trial basis up to February 2015 when the government will conduct a second evaluation of their effectiveness and decide on whether to continue or stop the programme. The Falcon is a bungee-launched, parachute recovery UAV which features day and night video payloads, and can be set up and launched in 10 minutes. It can stay airborne for over 60 minutes and is inter-operable with the Falcon Hover, a tactical Multi-copter Unmanned Vehicle which has Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) capability. According to the manufacturers of the SurVoyeur, the aircraft is still being test-flown by the government after being fitted with newer, modified camera systems. It is powered by a 4.5kg Hacker A30-12XL electric motor and can carry up to 600 grams in payload while staying airborne for 45 minutes. More than 33 elephants and 10 rhinos have been killed by poachers in flagship Namibian conservancies which include Bwabwata, Nkasa Rupara, Linyanti and Mudumu national parks in the remote northern-eastern Zambezi district. In July, the government deployed the army to crack down on poaching in the north-east as it struggles to save an estimated 25 000 elephants and 2 220 rhinos from a worsening poaching crisis. So far, seven Chinese nationals, one Indian and dozens of their Namibian, Congolese and Zambian accomplices are in Namibian custody or on trial after being arrested with hauls of elephant and rhino ivory and arte-facts among other protected wildlife products.
Some of the Chinese national seen shying away from the camera as they leave a court in Windhoek. Pic: AEP

Friday, September 5, 2014

Botswana - Africa's rare success story of elephant conservation

No sign of an elephant in all of two minutes, a tourist teased a guide at Botswana's Chobe National Park, home to tens of thousands of elephants. A minute later, their vehicle cleared a knot of shrubs and elephants loomed ahead beside the dusty road. Such joking wouldn't be possible in many other parts of Africa, where recent years have yielded dire news about ivory poaching. Poachers killed more than 20,000 elephants in 2013 amid rising demand for their tusks in Asia, particularly China, according to international conservation groups. Botswana is a rare bright spot with estimates of its elephant population as high as 200,000. The southern African country's political and economic stability, small human population and other factors make it an elephant haven, though pressure on habitats and conflict with the human population are increasing concerns. Botswana is a challenging model for other African nations struggling to ward off the illegal wildlife trade, ranked by the United Nations alongside arms, drug and human trafficking because its illicit profits run into billions of dollars worldwide. In all of Africa, there are about 420,000 to 650,000 elephants, according to some estimates. Elephants roam widely outside conservation areas in landlocked Botswana, which has two million people; in contrast, Kenya, under pressure from poachers, has almost as much territory as Botswana with about 35,000 elephants and 45 million people. Elephants benefit from Botswana's ban on commercial trophy hunting on state land that took effect this year to help other wildlife species whose numbers are in decline. Some elephants, who traditionally range across unfenced borders, may also have crossed into and stayed in Botswana as poaching escalated in neighbouring countries, some conservationists say. While official corruption has hooks in African poaching, Transparency International in 2013 listed Botswana 30th out of 177 countries and territories, based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. It led all other African countries and was ahead of nations including Portugal, South Korea and Costa Rica in the survey by the Berlin-based watchdog group. "Peace and conservation success go hand in hand," said Rudi van Aarde, a South African conservationist at the University of Pretoria who studies regional elephant populations. "Warfare and unrest and improper governance go hand in hand with conservation failures." Botswana says its elephant population is growing at five per cent a year. Officials have introduced fencing to keep elephants away from villages and the use of chili peppers is among schemes designed to protect crops from these "intelligent creatures," said Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the country's department of wildlife and national parks. "Elephants being elephants, they quickly find their way around some of these things," he said. In December, Botswana President Ian Khama, speaking at an international meeting on elephant conservation in Gaborone, the capital, said his government had deployed "all our security forces" to help guard against poachers. But some suspects infiltrate across borders. In June, a Zambian poacher was killed in a gunfight with rangers in Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, close to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. About 50 elephants have been poached annually in recent years in Botswana, according to Taolo. Poaching statistics are far higher elsewhere in Africa. Poachers, some shooting from helicopters, killed about 70 elephants over a two-month period in Garamba National Park in Congo, the park director said in June. Late last year, authorities in neighbouring Zimbabwe reported more than 100 elephants were killed by cyanide poisoning in the western Hwange game reserve.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chinese ivory traffickers now established in all African countries - report

A new report uncovers the fact that Chinese ivory traffickers are present in virtually every African state, and operate at nearly every point along the supply chain. The report, called Out of Africa; Criminalisation of the African Ivory Trade, was commissioned by Born Free USA and C4ADS (a nonprofit organisation that is dedicated to data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting of conflict and security issues worldwide), and focuses on the entire supply chain from source to end user. It found that despite its global scale, the majority of the illegal ivory trade is dominated by a small number of networks, and that the majority of the ivory is shipped via just 100 large annual consignments that make up 70-80 per cent of the trade. Seizures across multiple countries and commodities often appear to trace back to the same individuals and networks, and traffickers, particularly Chinese, straddle Africa and Asia and are linked to seizures in nearly every African range state and at nearly every stage along the supply chain. The report also revealed that the majority of the illegal ivory travels through a small number of ports and airports on its way to Asia. The three main ports are Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar, while the top three airports in the chain are Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Johannesburg. Adam M Roberts, CEO of The Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA said: “The ivory trade is operating today at the highest level since the 1989 commercial ivory trade ban. Our investigation reveals that between 2009 and June 2014, there were more than 90 large-scale ivory seizures, collectively weighing almost 170 tons, that bear the hallmarks of international organised crime. "This would amount to approximately 229,729 elephants killed and trafficked in fewer than six years.” "It is well known that East Asian nationals, and, in particular, the Chinese, drive the modern ivory trade. However, the scale we found in our investigation was shocking; Chinese traffickers are present in virtually every single African range state, and operate at nearly every point along the ivory supply chain." Varun Vira, Chief of Analysis at C4ADS and co-author of the report said, “The ivory trade is worth billions of dollars but is still talked about as if it were an unprofessional, disorganised, and artisanal industry, of concern only to conservationists. "In reality, it is a highly organised, complex global crime that has avoided consequence for decades. However, our report reveals that there may be as few as 100 large-scale ivory containers moving annually that drive the vast majority of the entire illegal trade. "Focusing efforts on intercepting these containers and tracing back their owners and facilitators can have a real impact on the trade."
A Chinese 'businessman' and a Namibian accomplice on trial after being arrested with 14 rhino horns in Namibia

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Namibian cabinet to review anti-poaching strategy as elephant, rhino poaching worsens

Last month, the Namibian cabinet met in an emergency session called to discuss specific new strategies to be implemented in collaboration with national law enforcement agencies in a fresh bid to curb the rampant poaching of elephant and rhino species. The meeting followed confirmation by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET)that while the rhino and elephant poaching crisis has of late escalated alarmingly in the Western, Central and Eastern parts of Africa, Namibia is facing its own poaching crisis which is worsening every day. In the North-Eastern areas of Namibia such as in the Bwabwata, Mudumu and Nkasa Rupara National Parks and in the Eastern flood plains of the Zambezi Region, the poaching of elephants has been growing at an alarming rate over the past three years. Since 2012 until now, 126 ele-phants and 16 rhinos have been poached in Namibia. Fourteen rhino horns were also confiscated at the Hosea Kutaku International Airport from three Chinese Nationals. The origin of the rhino farms were and still is unknown. MET is currently evaluating potential measures and gathering available resources to put a stop to this ever-increasing problem. However, it was noted that the most cases of poaching seems to be cross-border crimes involving foreign nationals.
A budget for this initiative has not been set out yet. Additional funding will be needed for the creation of a dedicated Anti-Poaching Unit. Meanwhile, the founder of Ele-phants Without Borders, Dr Mike Chase, has decided to do the greatest African elephant census in history. Chase speculates that there is an approximate 410 to 700 thousand elephants left in the whole of Africa while there used to be an estimated 27 million in the early 19th century. hase’s team consists of 18 aircraft and 46 scientists in the elephant census project solely funded by the co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen. The team will also visit Namibia after surveying Ethiopia, and continue towards Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Source: Informante, Namibia