Blood ivory and poaching – China’s fingerprints are everywhere


(Posted 28th August 2014)

A new report compiled by the Born Free USA Foundation has brought with it a damning indictment of Chinese involvement in blood ivory smuggling and by prolongation in poaching across the African elephant range states.

The document titled ‘Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory’ has also pointed to the links between ivory poaching, smuggling and other illegal activities like illegal arms trade, narcotics trade and trade in people.

Carried out by the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies has the report outlined with renewed clarity the key gateways from Africa to the South East and China and the Born Free USA CEO Adam Roberts left no doubt whom he thinks responsible for the massive slaughter of the African elephant when he reportedly called the scale of the ongoing trade shocking and said: ‘Chinese traffickers are present in every range state and operate at nearly every point along the ivory supply chain’. These allegations are not new and in fact only reiterate what conservationists have said for a long time. While the Chinese government, for long stonewalling on the issue, has began to show some inclination of late, in the face of massive decampaigning globally, to tackle the problem, tighten import controls through increased cargo monitoring they have notably failed to bring new legislation and prohibit the processing and sale of ivory on the domestic market. It is this lack of enforcement which continues to fuel poaching in Africa to meet the rocketing demand for ivory in China and in fact has many conservationists believe that there is covert approval from the top levels of the Chinese administration, that ivory processing and possession is their cultural right, a right which cost tens of thousands of elephant their lives in recent years.

The report also highlighted that the sea ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar remain in the thick of ivory smuggling while the airports of Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Johannesburg have been named as the key routes when shipping ivory by air.

Admittedly have the number of seizures in particular in Kenya gone up over the past two years but offenders and suspects have regularly walked away with laughable fines even after the new wildlife law in Kenya has come into effect.

Efforts to stamp out poaching on a national basis have, according to many spoken to in the region, miserably failed in particular in Tanzania though poaching in Kenya, while not nearly on the level of Tanzania, is causing ongoing concerns. Recent discussions with leading conservationists have drawn parallels with the piracy scourge over some years ago, when individual countries failed to make an impact until a global naval coalition was put into place. It has hence been suggested that similarly should a global anti-poaching task force be established, where international law enforcement, customs, CITES and local security organizations come together to combine their resources to step up intelligence gathering, surveillance and search and seizure operations. With the links between poaching gangs and their proceeds finding their way into outlawed terror groups all but proven, similar as was the case with the proceeds from acts of piracy by Somali ocean terrorists, it has become a matter of global as well as national security to come down hard on the entire supply chain, from the front line poachers to the traders, financiers and recipients. That however has been facing two major obstacles, the failure of the Chinese government to tighten the screws back home to criminalize processing and possession of illegal ivory and shut down the carving industry and perhaps even more importantly the alleged complicity of top politicians, business people, civil servants and army brass in the poaching, transport and export of ivory from Africa. It is here in particular that Tanzania is under intense scrutiny as the list compiled by former Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Amb. Kagesheki, reportedly containing some 300 names, appears to have been put under lock and key as not one high profile arrest and prosecution has been brought since he handed over the list to his boss. In Kenya too allegations have been flying high and low with names eventually being first whispered and then openly talked about, again with no visible effect, while a businessman in Mombasa implicated in a major ivory bust remains on the run as the local police in Mombasa has failed to arrest him. The Inspector General of Police in Kenya, one Kimayio, in fact behaved in a broadly representative fashion when he had conservation icon Dr. Paula Kahumbu wait an entire day before in a reportedly cold fashion received a petition urging the Kenyan police to arrest the man, prompting a regular source at the time to rant: ‘What do you expect of a man of his caliber. He cannot keep Kenyans safe and failed us, you think he gives a rat’s a*** about arresting an ivory smuggler? It also suggests that this government does not have the political will to arrest politically well connected people who have been named but have also been left alone’.

The more recent emergence of WildLeaks, similar to WikiLeaks, has raised hopes however that in a global and local campaign of naming and shaming the key figures can be exposed and such then be used to have action taken up to the level of travel bans, account freezing and international arrest warrants.

For now though does the report from Born Free USA make stark reading and serves as a reminder that the war on poaching is far from being over and that the big battles are still ahead.

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