INTERPOL JOINS LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT IN BIGGEST RAIDS EVER
Now that the raids have taken place it is time to reveal how Interpol worked hand in hand with more than a dozen African countries and their wildlife management and law enforcement agencies to carry out a series of raids, including across Eastern Africa, to arrest suspected dealers in blood ivory and confiscate their contraband hoards.
Exploding demand for ivory amongst the nouvelle riche in China in particular has fuelled the most gruel onslaught on the African elephant ever seen, with the worst single example two weeks ago in Cameroon, where within the space of days more than 500 elephant were mowed down with automatic assault weapons, the carcasses stripped of the tusks and then left to rot. This single most horrific attack on the remaining herds of elephant in Cameroon, and the continent at large, however also triggered a global response by law enforcement, prompting the fast tracking of a coordinated series of raids on known or suspected ivory traders, while the global conservation fraternity is preparing to take on the Chinese government over their apparent tolerance of the hunger and greed for ivory products amongst Chinese citizens. It is now simply a matter of sheer survival for the African elephant and rhinos. If the Chinese government is not stepping in and stepping up their domestic laws, prohibiting even the mere possession of ivory unless of certified old stock prior to a certain date, and dish out as harsh sentences as they do to their regime critics, this will not stop. China must take responsibility for what her citizens do, at home and abroad, and if they do nothing they are accomplices in sabotaging and destroying Africas heritage and threatening our tourism industrys core attractions, our wildlife. 2011 was the worst year ever for seizures and confiscation of blood ivory and in South Africa alone nearly 450 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns. Those who seek powdered rhino horn for supposed cures of ailments can just as well bite their finger nails because it is the same substance as rhino horn is made of. Chinas leadership has a choice to make, to either stand up and be counted and help us fight this crime against wildlife or otherwise we will globally denounce and brand China as aiders and abettors of wildlife genocide and start a campaign to keep China out of Africa until they do what is right, what is expected of them. There is already an undercurrent now that they are out to rape and loot Africas resources and we shall fuel these sentiments more and add destroying our tourism industrys foundation to the list of already endless crimes said a regular conservation source from Nairobi, who was incensed by the latest figures emerging of how poaching of elephant and rhinos was alarmingly on the increase in Kenya. The same source also confirmed that raids were coordinated on a larger scale across Eastern, Southern and Central Africa, involving regular police, customs, special security operatives and wildlife management personnel leading to seizures of blood ivory and arrests.
But there are also major disagreements amongst African countries over the issue of ivory trade. Driven by an alleged surplus of elephant in Southern Africa, in past years exemptions were approved by CITES to permit selected applicants to sell their legal stocks, with Tanzania last year trying to jump on that bandwagon only to be thwarted by a coalition of anti trading nations, while in Kenya for instance several tons of ivory were burnt by President Kibaki. Here more clashes of different schools of thought are expected in 2012 though all statistics available now suggest that there is a direct link between having legalized limited trade and the subsequent jump in poaching across Africa.
Meanwhile did it also become public knowledge that most arrests carried out in Africa for attempts to smuggle ivory out of or through Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa for that matter, involve Chinese citizens returning home from business trips or on expatriate leave, raising the question what has gone wrong in such a highly regulated and controlled society as the Chinese that such a massive failure of enforcement has spread into Chinese society like a cancer.
Kenya in particular has excelled in increased monitoring and surveillance, using teams of sniffer dogs at the main transit airports and the port of Mombasa, where tons of contraband ivory has last year been confiscated, while further abroad authorities in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have also made record seizures of smuggled ivory.
Bans and enforcement however are only one side of the coin as unless the demand side is being criminalized and severely punished, with crippling fines and long custodial sentences imposed around the world on the mere possession of unlicensed ivory, the slaughter will undoubtedly continue. Barbs galore to the Chinese government for their continued silence on this issue and bouquets to Interpol and local African law enforcement for their most recent initiative to come down hard on the traders and smugglers. Watch this space.