Cross-border poaching perturbing
Lusaka – Wildlife trafficking across southern African borders remains a great concern, as poachers rake in millions in untaxed illegal business while some poached animals species face extinction.
SADC Customs Survey indicates that poachers frequently operate in and target neighbouring countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe for the tusks of their vast elephant populations. The hardest hit areas are Hwange and Zambezi national parks in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana.
The operation also gathered critical intelligence, which points to the fact that elephant poaching is on the rise in the four neighbouring countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
According to Scientific American Journal, the population of these African elephants ‑ numbering around 600 000 ‑ is decreasing by about 38 000 a year.
These figures have been calculated using the annual number of illegal tusks seized, which have significantly exceeded the elephant birth rate, meaning these mammals could face extinction within the next 15 years, the survey states.<br /> Recently, two Zambian poaching masterminds and traffickers of elephant ivory were arrested in the Kazungula area in Zambia’s Southern Province.
The poachers, who had been under pursuit by Zambia for about 10 years, were ‑ together with their six cronies ‑ apprehended earlier this year.
According to a report by the Lusaka Agreement Taskforce on illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, the culprits were in possession of 42 pieces of ivory weighing 629kg, 7kg dry elephant meat, one 0.375 rifle, one AK47 rifle and 61 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition and cannabis concealed in a plastic bag.
Earlier last month, Hong Kong officials seized 1.3 tonnes of ivory tusks, raising the tally of contraband ivory confiscated in the Chinese city to five tonnes in less than a month, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The 569 ivory tusks, with an estimated value of US$1.25 million, was concealed in a shipping container that had arrived from Tanzania.
IFAW says this brings to four the number of huge seizures of illegal ivory in the past four weeks – two in Hong Kong, 210 tusks in Tanzania and just this week, 215 tusks were intercepted in Dubai. All the ivory was in transit from Kenya and Tanzania.
In the past, the animal welfare organisation has expressed concern after 3.8 tonnes of illegal ivory that originated from Kenya was seized in Hong Kong on October 20, 2012. The ivory was shipped from Kenya and Tanzania.
The previous seizure in Asia implicating Kenya, was in July 2012 when about 600 kg of ivory was impounded in Thailand and Vietnam.
Jason Bell, Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme, was quoted in the statement saying that the last 24 months have been among the most deadly ever for elephants.
“In 2011, in total, authorities seized close to 24.3 tonnes of illegal ivory – the biggest amount in 23 years ‑ and, in the first quarter of 2012, poachers in Cameroon slaughtered an estimated 650 elephants for their ivory. It is clear that elephants are under more threat today, than they have been in a long time,” said Bell.
IFAW noted that most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and coveted as “white gold”.
Recently, an international enforcement initiative co-ordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) codenamed Project GAPIN led to over 70 major seizures of endangered flora and fauna and their derivatives, such as live tortoises, rhino horns, ivory tusks, a leopard skin, dead seahorses and pangolin scales.
Trade in these species is prohibited or regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The operation intercepted and seized illegal shipments of wildlife and other endangered species. It also promoted a culture of integrity to prevent corrupt practices that could fuel illicit trade.
Seizures were made in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania – 19 countries that form part of Project GAPIN, while the balance were made in countries outside Africa – Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The operation targeted air and maritime consignments, as well as passengers between October 22 and 31, 2012, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the Lusaka Agreement Taskforce and, in some countries, national CITES management authorities, wildlife enforcement agencies and the police.
The joint efforts of 41 customs administrations in Africa, Asia and Europe resulted in several arrests and the seizure of 2 100 items, including two rhino horns, 53 pieces of rhino skin, 450kg of raw ivory, 334 pieces of worked ivory (mainly jewellery), 140 tortoises (from which only 49 survived the smuggling attempt), 130 dead seahorses, 25kg of pangolin scales, 21 bags made from reptile skin, one leopard skin and 20 orchids.
Besides intercepting more than 150kg of bush meat too, of which 25kg proved to be meat from protected species like crocodile, pangolin and python, customs officials discovered 408 tonnes of unprocessed teakwood without the necessary export permits.
“With endangered wildlife under increasing threat by criminal entrepreneurs and organised crime syndicates, the international community cannot afford to rest on its laurels as an extinct species is lost forever,” said WCO Secretary-General, Kunio Mikuriya, in a report.
There have been increased calls in SADC for concerted action by the affected countries to effectively address the crisis and urge all African states to accede to the Lusaka Agreement to allow expansion of its area of intervention in addressing the challenge in Africa.
The Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora was the brainchild of Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers from eight Eastern and Southern African countries meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, in December 1992.