BBC News uncovers need for training freight handlers to identify animal trafficing

On February 7, 2015, the BBC News Science & Environment division published a report about the lack of preparedness among freight and shipping handlers for identifying animal parts transported across international boarders.  Among the findings and statements:

  • Poaching of rhinos in South Africa reached a record of 1,215 last year
  • Tigers have been killed off to a level that is 5% of what the population was a century ago.  There are approximately 3,000 tigers left in all the world
  • Smugglers are learning new tricks to disguise horn and ivory
  • Asian ivory carvers are moving into Africa to practice their trade

The article is noteworthy because it is describing the lengths criminals pursue to evade detection.  All this is fueled by consumer demand for animal parts.  Bangles, or bracelets are easily disguised as plastic.  There are few techniques for testing the composition of items declared as something that is not horn or ivory.   Ivory bracelets are labeled  “vintage” or “antique”.  Shipping handlers are stymied and have little recourse but to accept the shipment as is.  How can they question the age of an item?  In practice the burden of proof of age falls to the agent and veracity of the owner shipping the item.

Today, I did a search on eBay and found many bangles for sale that look like ivory.  EBay prohibits the sale of ivory on its site because eBay doesn’t accept the documentation of age from owners.  I wonder if anything slips through and is published for sale?  Perhaps someone reading this blog knows how on-line marketing groups like eBay monitor bangles and ivory-looking objects.  I would be interested in knowing more.  I don’t want to disparage legitimate dealers, but who monitors the claims that ivory is pre-ban and can they prove it?  The volume of pre-ban bangles for sale on the Internet is impressive.  I found one pre-ban bangle priced at $700.

Ivory carvers from China moving to Africa to ply their trade is disturbing.  It puts tradespeople closer to the source of ivory and bone further encouraging demand.  It also suggests the markets in China are expanding.  Edmond and Stiles, in their landmark 2008 publication, Ivory Markets in the U.S.A, identified fewer than 200 ivory carvers in this country (pages 21-23).  In the U.S., carves worked ivory for knife-handles, billiard cues, jewelery, musical instruments, scrimshanders, restored antiques, netsuke and handgun grips.  I’m not aware of an inventory of carvers since this publication which suggests the trades are dying out in the U.S.  The news in the BBC article suggest the trade in carving ivory is far from dead.

This is all the more reason for the bringing attention to the expanding markets worldwide.   We should not be complacent that the poaching of African wildlife is going away.  We might be hopeful the situation is changing.  Fewer elephants were poached in Kenya in 2014 than in 2013.  However, the observations about animal trafficking and general preparedness to identify, arrest and prosecute criminals is not encouraging.

Finally, selling ivory is still a problem for us in the United States.  The purchase of ivory  feeds supply lines and commerce requiring more dead elephants.  A colleague visited San Francisco California last month (January 2015) and took these store front snapshots.  If the American public wants to buy ivory, there still is a lot of it for sale.

Rich Male 150110_1Rich Male 150110_2

Kenya Dialogues on Wildilfe and Environmental Crime

As we end 2013 an important meeting has concluded among Kenya’s leaders committed to curbing wildlife crime, especially poaching. The meeting took place at Amboseli National Park on December 20.  John Mbaria, communications expert for the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) reports 76 participants attended representing  the Judiciary, Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Police, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Ministry of Environment, Water & Natural Resources, Ford Foundation, Kenya Tourist Board, Mombasa and Coast Tourism Association, Lusaka Task Force, Interpol, Office of Director of Public Prosecution, South African Embassy, U.S. Embassy, Kenyans United Against Poaching and several local and international conservation NGO’s including Lewis & Clark’s College of Law of the U.S. of A.

The meeting was remarkable in that for the second time this year, the first was with Wildlife Direct and KWS officials, Kenya’s leadership is demonstrating a way forward to stop elephant and rhino poaching.  The meeting brought renewed focus to the mutual priorities between government, the judiciary and economic interests to respond to well planned criminal activities that go beyond the national borders of Kenya. Poaching finances terrorism.  Big rewards are paid to the end producers, the crooks selling illicit ivory and rhino horn.  It was reported at this meeting that the street price for rhino horn per kilo has reached $65,000 U.S. about 5.5 million Kenya Shillings,  A full grown rhino horn can weigh as much as seven kilos.  Yet, the conviction and fines imposed on poachers did not exceed 40,000 Kenya Shillings, about $500 U.S.

The meeting concluded with several pages of agreed upon action steps that will be pursued by the various governmental agencies and conservation groups immediately.  It is too early to boast of success but the meeting was a powerful show of the countries resolve to do something to effectively address wildlife crime.