Ivory auctions net much less than African nations expected

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2008:
Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South
Africa between October 31 and November 7, 2008
collected $15.4 million from the sale of 108 tons
of stockpiled elephant tusks to Chinese and
Japanese traders, in the first ivory sales
approved by the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species since 1999.
But the sellers were reportedly disappointed in their take.
The average price paid for ivory was $152
U.S. per kilogram, less than a fifth the price
that some conservationists have claimed is paid
for poached ivory.

“If ever there was a demonstration that
crime doesn’t pay, this is it,” CITES
representative John Sellar told Agence
France-Press. “The poachers and the dealers in
Africa have taken people in Asia for mugs, and
they appear to have gotten away with it for
several years. If next week you’re a dealer in
illegal ivory,” Sellars said, “and you try to
get 4, 5, 6, 7, 800 dollars a kilo for ivory,
you’ll be laughed out of the room.”
Zimbabwe sold just under four tons of
ivory for $450,000. “We expected more than
this,” a Zimbabwean official who was not named
told Agence France-Presse. “This is the problem
when you just have two buyers who behave like a
cartel,” the official said.
The unexpectedly low take was a political
blow to the Robert Mugabe government. The
opposition Zim Daily reported that “Mugabe’s
government–cash strapped and hungry for foreign
exchange to pay for imports–was planning to have
the Chinese government pay for the ivory with
guns Mugabe’s people ordered just before this
year’s Zimbabwean presidential run-off,” wrote
Samuel Maina of Wildlife Direct.
“Facing an imminent end to his
three-decade grip on power, Mugabe decided to
buy guns to wage war against the opposition,
should he lose the elections,” Maina summarized.
“The best place to buy the guns was from China,
since they are not participating in the arms
embargo of Zimbabwe by western nations.”
The Zim Daily web site soon disappeared,
as often occurs to news media critical of Mugabe,
but Maina offered further detail.
“In the run-up to the ivory auction,”
Maina wrote, “substantial quantities of high
caliber weapons disappeared from the armory of
Zimbabwe’s department of parks and wildlife near
State House, Harare,” according to Zim Daily.
“During the same period, 200 elephants were
reported to have been killed in the Zambezi
Valley bordering Zambia. The Zimbabwe government
blamed this on animal rights groups which ‘want
to thwart Mugabe’s bid to have CITES relax its
trade rules.'”
Recalled Maina, “In July 2000 a German
wildlife conservation organization, EcoTerra,”
with an office in Nairobi, Kenya, “revealed
that Mugabe had sold eight tons of ivory to China
in exchange for firearms.”
Zimbabwean officials appeared to be
seeking pretexts to shoot elephants since 2006,
when the Mugabe regime reinvigorated efforts to
seek CITES permission to sell “culled” ivory.
Reports reached ANIMAL PEOPLE that elephants were
even shot to feed ranched crocodiles–and in at
least one instance, because an elephant with a
friendly reputation was provoked until he became
briefly violent.
“2008 is now drawing to a close and one
cannot help but bitterly remember the tragic
shooting of Tusker, also known as Dustbin,
after the 2007 New Year’s Party in Charara,
Kariba,” e-mailed Zimbabwe Conservation Task
Force chair Johnny Rodrigues. “He was teased and
tormented mercilessly by drunken youths and when
he retaliated by turning a couple of cars over,
he signed his own death warrant. We found out
later that fruit had been thrown under the cars
‘to see what the elephant would do.'” Tusker was
shot, despite good behavior afterward, on
January 6, 2008– almost a week after the
Rodrigues tried unsuccessfully to stop
further New Year’s Eve partying at Charara.
“There are still some elephants in the Charara
area,” Rodrigues warned. “These elephants are
not as good-natured as Tusker was. Several
elephants have been shot in the area this year
and those remaining are skittish. We can
guarantee that if they are subjected to hairs
being pulled out of their tails, fireworks and
beer cans being thrown at them, cigarettes being
stubbed out on them, headlights being flashed in
their eyes, and cars being rammed into their
legs as Tusker was, they will do more than just
turn over a few cars.”
Ten days after the last of the legal
ivory auctions, the United Nations-sponsored
international police agency Interpol coordinated
Operation Baba, a one-day sweep targeting more
than 50 local ivory markets, airports, border
crossings, and suspected smuggling points in
Congo-Brazzaville, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and
Zambia, involving “more than 300 law enforcement
officers from police, customs, wildlife and
national intelligence agencies,” an Interpol
press release said.
Directed at ivory trafficking, “The
crackdown also seized cheetah, leopard, serval
cat and python skins, as well as hippo teeth,”
reported Agence France-Presse.
“The operation was called Operation
Baba,” e-mailed Bill Clark, formerly African
programs coordinator for Friends of Animals,
“to honor the memory of Gilbert Baba, a Ghanian
wildlife ranger who was killed by traffickers
about 10 years ago. He was one of my students,
and learned how to fly the first ultralight”
donated by FoA in 1992 to help in anti-poaching
“The traffickers learned he was after
them and somehow put poison into his food.
Gilbert walked about 15 kilometres after having
been poisoned, and got back to base in Mole
National Park, but died some hours afterward.
I keep a photo of him above my desk,” Clark said.
Despite the low bids on ivory at the
auctions and the success of Operation Baba, the
poached ivory traffic remained vigorous. Two
mid-November raids by Cameroonian rangers netted
a combined total of 1,576 contraband wildlife
items, including at least 30 “elephant pieces,”
reported Robert Tumasang, Bertoua correspondent
for the Buea Post. The traffickers escaped, and
the contraband “was then auctioned to buyers in
Bertoua by the Provincial Delegation of Forestry
and Wildlife,” Tumasang wrote.
Elephant poaching and ivory trafficking
also surged in India during the two years
preceding the CITES-approved sale. The Hindu in
October and November 2008 published reports of
ivory seizures and investigations of elephants
found dead without their tusks in Utterkhand and
Karnataka states. Kairali TV news broadcast an
exposé of a racket in which a retired forestry
officer and his son allegedly kill captive
elephants to collect the insurance on them, and
sell the tucks.
One major ivory trafficking case broke in
the U.S. A Houston federal magistrate on
December 5, 2008 ordered alleged ivory
trafficker Mamadi Doumbouya, 39, to be kept in
custody and moved to Brooklyn, New York, to
stand trial, reported Mary Flood of the Houston
Chronicle. Doumbouya and five alleged
co-conspirators, arrested in other states, are
accused of bringing elephant tusks from the Ivory
Coast, Cameroon and Uganda into the U.S.,
disguised by clay coatings as sculptures and
musical instruments.
Doumbouya’s brother Drissa Diane
reportedly told an undercover agent, “Our
business is like a Mafia business. You know my
daddy used to be a dealer, so I learned a lot
and I know a lot of people.” Drissa Diane was
also arrested.
Born in Ivory Coast, Mamadi Doumbouya is
a legal resident of the U.S., and had a
citizenship application pending. He was fined in
2003 for his part in importing 22 ivory carvings,
and was questioned in 2006 about importing
wildlfe contraband including a baboon skull,
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service special agent Philip
Alegranti testified.
Ivory trafficking within the U.S. may
become more difficult in 2009, as eBay Inc.
announced in late October that effective on
January 1, 2009 it will prohibit the sale via
eBay of all ivory items except for objects such
as pianos made before 1900, in which the ivory
keys are believed to be incidental to the value
of the item as a whole.

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