Hong Kong customs makes biggest seizure of blood ivory of the year


(Posted 08th August 2013)

1.120 tusks, 13 rhino horns and several leopard skins were seized by vigilant members of Hong Kong customs, the second large find of blood ivory in less than a month.

While the container was reportedly shipped from Nigeria, the origin of the rhino horns and ivory will be subject to forensic testing to establish the country where the illicit cargo originally came from.

Officials in Hong Kong put a 41 million Hong Kong Dollar value to the find and are presently looking for parties named in the shipping documents to answer questions.

While Hong Kong fines those found guilty in trading in endangered species up to 5 million HKG D and dishes out up to two year prison terms, this has not stopped the constant, and going by some accounts growing flow of blood ivory via Hong Kong into the Chinese mainland, where the nouvelle riche find it chic to display intricate ivory carvings in their opulent residences, but also use ivory chop sticks, serviette holders and signatory stamps, clearly not caring that for each of those possessions an elephant was brutally slaughtered.

Cites has admitted that the illicit trade has more than doubled since 2007, when a new wave of poaching hit first in South Africa where since then nearly 2.000 rhinos were killed for their horns, before spreading north to neighbouring countries and then to Tanzania and Kenya, where it is mainly elephant which are being killed before their tusks are removed, often by chainsaws, leaving a gruesome sight for game rangers and anti poaching units confronted with the carcasses.

Activists in Kenya, foremost Dr. Paula Kahumbu, have managed to bring the spotlight back on the problem of ivory poaching and gained the patronage of Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta to support their ‘Hands off our elephant’ campaign which is now gathering momentum and spreading around the globe.

Hardest hit in Eastern Africa is Tanzania, which last year lost at least 10.000 elephant, mainly in the Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park, though suggestions have been made that the real number could be substantially higher. Authorities in Tanzania and Kenya, but also in Uganda, which has become a transit country for blood ivory from Congo and South Sudan, have vowed to crack down on offenders and at least in Kenya the amended Wildlife Act is now in parliament. The updated law will hand down mandatory long sentences for poachers, smugglers and the hinter men of such illegal activities, plus slap those found guilty with heavy fines. Yet, for the conservation fraternity this is all too little and too late, considering the number of seizures in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam ports. ‘If this trend is not halted we may lose our elephant in the next 20 or so years. That will make a big dent in our tourism receipts because when there are no elephant, less game and fewer and fewer rhinos and predators, a safari will just not be the same again’ said a regular conservation source from Nairobi.

While customs officials in Hong Kong need to be congratulated, the demand remains towards the Chinese government to do more in preventing the illicit trade and equally hand down stiffer sentences and heavier fines, besides making ivory possession, unless it underwent a strict verification process in regard of age and possession prior to the CITES convention, illegal. Watch this space.

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