Ivory dealer vanishes after CITES eases ban

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2003:

SANTIAGO, Chile; Lilongwe, Malawi–Peter Wang, also known
as Peter Onn, Y.S. Wong, and Wang Yong Shi, recently eluded a
police cordon around his home in Lilongwe, Malawi, and disappeared
just as he was about to be arrested, revealed correspondent Rory
Carroll of The Guardian on December 27, 2002.
“Investigators have told The Guardian,” Carroll wrote,
“that an apparent breakthrough in June against a vast smuggling
network has evaporated. Six metric tons of ivory bound for Japan,”
representing the deaths of about 600 elephants, “was intercepted in
Singapore, but the ringleaders escaped and the trafficking
continues, leaving game parks littered with mutilated carcasses.”
Wang, Carroll said, “is accused of being the lynchpin in a
network of African poachers and Asian buyers who flouted the global
ivory trade ban introduced in 1989.”


As reputed agent for an ivory trafficking syndicate based in
Hong Kong and Singapore, Wang is believed to have begun operating
from Malawi in 1994, leaving a wife in Asia to live with a Malawian
woman named Hanifa Thomasi.
“According to the Malawian authorities,” Carroll said,
“ivory was poached in several nations, gathered in Chipata, Zambia,
sent to Lilongwe for false documents, and trucked to Durban, South
Africa, for shipment.”
Other reports indicate that “only” three metric tons of ivory
were seized in Singapore in June– still one of the largest seizures
ever, and occurring almost on the eve of preliminary conferencing
prior to the November 2002 triennial meeting of the Convention on
Interna-tional Trade in Endangered Species.
Chinese officials arrested two alleged conspirators in the
trafficking plot on September 7, who used the names Li Wenjian and
Liang Zhiquiang. The alleged traffickers apparently guessed rightly
that ivory might soon be moving legally again, and hoped–exactly as
elephant defenders have feared–that poached ivory could be disguised
as part of the legal trade.
The U.S. delegation to the mid-November 2002 Convention on
International Trade In Endangered Species triennial meeting in
Santiago, Chile, was headed by Department of the Interior assistant
secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks Craig Manson.
Acknowledging receipt of 12,000 e-mails opposing easement of
the ivory trade ban, Manson on November 4 stated that regardless of
decisions by CITES, “ivory imports io the U.S. will continue to be
prohibited under both the Endangered Species Act and the African
Elephant Conservation Act.”

U.S. amendment

However, seemingly emboldened by the Republican capture of
the U.S. Senate majority on November 5, which gave U.S. Pres-ident
George W. Bush the endorsements of both houses of Congress, Manson
on November 11 introduced a surprise successful amendment to allow
Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to sell 66 metric tons of
stockpiled elephant ivory.
Manson defended the amendment on grounds that it did not
allow the three nations to sell ivory annually, as they had applied
to do, and denied permission to sell ivory to Zambia and Zimbabwe,
whose control of ivory poaching and trafficking appears to be much
shakier.
The amendment was in the direction of the “wise-use”
philosophy of Safari Club International, of which Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Colin Powell are
reportedly life members, and coincided with the recent
recommendation of California Member of the House of Representatives
Richard Pombo (R-Pomona) that elephant conservation should be funded
by selling ivory. A longtime Bush ally, Pombo was on January 10
appointed to head the House Resources Committee– which puts him in
charge of the Endangered Species Act enforcement budget.
The CITES delegations from India and Kenya prophecied that
the resumption of any legal ivory sales might stimulate an escalation
of poaching and illegal trafficking. Those fears intensified when on
November 28 Melanie Gosling, environment writer for the Cape Times
of Cape Town, South Africa, disclosed that the South African
government was disbanding the 27-member Endangered Species Protection
Unit that it formed in 1989 to stop ivory trafficking, and was
merging the unit staff into the police organized crime division. The
existence of the specialized unit to deal with any wrongdoing was
among the reasons given to CITES in support of the South African
proposal to sell ivory.
Other CITES actions included approving Appendix II
“threatened species” lists for basking sharks, whale sharks, sea
horses, yellow-naped parrots, blueheaded macaws, and 12 species of
Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises, plus defeating Japanese
proposals to downlist minke whales and Bryde’s whales from Appendix I
“endangered species” status.

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