Avocados & ivory

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)
NAIROBI–Inspectors at the Jomo Kenyata Inter-national
Airport in Nairobi thought there was something odd about a two-ton
cargo of “avocados” that were to be flown to Malaysia on August 21,
Avocados, after all, are among the major exports of Sabah
state, Malaysia.
Opening the boxes, the inspectors found 317 pieces of ivory
and five rhino horns. Two suspects were arrested.

The seizure was the largest of many which together underscore
that as Fred Mukinda and Benjami Muindi of The Nation charged a month
earlier, “Kenya has become a safe route for cartels involved in the
illegal ivory trade.”
For example, Mukinda and Muindi wrote, “2,000 kilograms of
elephant tusks seized in Vietnam in May came from Selous National
Park in Tanzania. However, the consignment was shipped through
Mombasa,” the largest Kenyan seaport. “Another 48 tusks were seized
on Nairobi’s Thika Road in a lorry, three weeks later,” Mukinda and
Muindi continued. “A Korean and two Kenyans have been charged in
connection with the offence.”
In late July 2010 the Vietnamese newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan
(People’s Police) disclosed that customs officials in Hai Phong had
in April intercepted a 200-kilo cargo of elephant tusks. That too
came through Kenya, but the source also appeared to have been
Tanzania. “Last week in Tanzania six businessmen were charged with
smuggling 11 tons of elephant ivory to the Philippines and Vietnam
over the previous six months,” reported Agence France-Presse.
Seizures of Tanzanian ivory continued in September 2010 with
the impoundment of 384 elephant tusks in Hong Kong. The Democratic
Republic of the Congo was also implicated, when a “huge consignment
of elephant tusks destined to China via Nairobi were impounded at the
Lubumbashi airport,” reported Zephania Ubwani of The Citizen in Dar
es Salaam. “Several Chinese nationals were arrested,” Ubwani added.
“It was hoped that a 2007 agreement by the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species would squeeze out illegal
ivory trading by allowing four African countries to sell stockpiles
gathered over many years from dead animals,” assessed Jody Clarke of
the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian. “Instead, it reopened a window for
smuggling into China, where ivory is a sought-after commodity for
use in everything from medicines to ornaments.”
Instead of lowering the price of ivory on the world market,
the availability of legal ivory drove demand and prices up fourfold,
according to Kenya Wildlife Service head of conservation Patrick
Omondi–or tenfold, according to Michael Casey, William Foreman,
and Jason Straziuso of Associated Press, who in early 2010 followed
the illegal traffic from Tsavo East National Park in Kenya to
Bangkok, Thailand, and Putian, China.
“Although the influx of Chinese workers in Africa is also
blamed for rising poaching, this is unlikely to be contributing
significantly to the problem,” opined Wildlife Direct founder and
two-time Kenya Wildlife Service chief Richard Leakey. “The Chinese
workers are lowly paid,” Leakey pointed out, “and thus they don’t
have the large amounts of money required to buy ivory from poachers.
Far more important, there is quite a busy ivory market in China
triggered by the one-off auction of ivory [authorized by CITES in
2007] held in 2008. Twenty years ago ivory was not very affordable
in China. Only a few rich people could buy it. Today, China’s per
capita income has been growing by about 8% per year. There are now
tens of millions of Chinese people who can buy ivory. This is where
the problem is.”
“We’ve more than doubled air patrols and put more staff on
the ground,” Omondi of the Kenya Wildlife Service told Clarke of the
Mail & Guardian. “We have sniffer dogs at airports and want to
spread them to the port in Mombasa and are co-operating more than
ever with international organisations such as Interpol,” Omondi
continued. “But until the problem in Asia is tackled, international
cartels that employ local people to poach will continue operating
across Africa.”

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