Massive Smuggling of Elephant Ivory, Rhino Horn and Great Apes

Human Wrongs Watch

Geneva, 24 July – The massive smuggling of elephant ivory and rhino horn, tiger conservation and the illegal trade in great apes are among the issues on the agenda of a United Nations-backed meeting taking place in Geneva from 23 to 27 July.

A forest elephant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: UNESCO

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Some 350 participants are participating in the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
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The Committee oversees the implementation of rules for the international trade in protected wildlife on behalf of the Conference of the 175 member countries of CITES, the UN reported.
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Elephant issues, including rising levels in the illegal killing of elephants and ivory smuggling, features high on the agenda of the week-long meeting, as does the drivers behind the “exploding” demand in rhino horn, according to a news release issued by the CITES secretariat, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
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Worst Levels in a Decade
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“With elephant and rhino poaching and smuggling levels being the worst in a decade, it is clear that strong additional measures are required,” said the Chairman of the Committee, Øysten Størkersen, adding that 2013 will be a critical year to adopt enhanced measures to protect the planet’s biodiversity and ensure effective implementation on the ground.
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“The present meeting will help set the priorities and to ensure the long-term survival of key species we would like to leave to future generations,” he stated.
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The meeting will also review the progress made in the implementation of measures to reduce the over-exploitation of freshwater turtles and tortoises, as well as some frogs and plants from Madagascar, in addition to discussing the sourcing of Asian snakes used in the leather industry. Also on the agenda are tiger conservation initiatives and the illegal trade in great apes.
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This week’s gathering will also decide on the agenda of the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which will take place in Bangkok in March 2013, and will coincide with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Convention.

CITES regulates international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.

Ivory Seizures at Highest Levels since 1989

On 21 June, a report published tby the United Nations-backed convention on endangered species warned that elephant poaching levels are the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989.

“We need to enhance our collective efforts across range, transit and consumer states to reverse the current disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling,” the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John E. Scanlon, said in a news release on the report.

“While being essential, enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” he added. “The whole ‘enforcement chain’ must work together.”

The Illegal Killing of Elephants

The report – Elephant Conservation, Illegal Killing and Ivory Trade – analyses data from the CITES programme on Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants; the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s data on the status of elephant populations; the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) managed by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC; and the CITES trade database managed by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

According to ETIS data, three of the five years in which the greatest volumes of ivory were seized globally occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2011 alone, there were 14 large-scale ivory seizures – a double-digit figure for the first time in 23 years, when ETIS records were first compiled. They totalled an estimated 24.3 tonnes of ivory, more than in any previous year.

More Than 800 Kilograms of Ivory in a Single Transaction

The sources of information have shown a very close correspondence between trends in elephant poaching and trends in large-scale ivory seizures, detecting essentially the same patterns at different points in the illegal ivory trade chain, CITES noted.

Large-scale ivory seizures – those involving more than 800 kilograms of ivory in a single transaction – typically indicate the participation of organized crime, the UN reported.

Most of the ivory smuggling containers leave Africa through Indian Ocean seaports on the continent’s eastern coastline, primarily from Kenya and Tanzania, with China and Thailand the two primary destinations for illegal ivory consignments from Africa, according to the seizure data.

Some African and Asian countries have made significant efforts to enhance enforcement, CITES noted. For example, China conducted earlier this year a major operation which resulted in the seizure of more than 1,366 kilograms of ivory and the arrest of 13 suspects.

CITES said that the critical situation in Africa demonstrates the urgent need to implement the African Elephant Action Plan, which was created by all African elephant range States under the auspices of CITES in 2010. The plan envisages investing $100 million over three years into elephant conservation efforts.

The report’s findings, largely based on information submitted by governments, has been taken up at the 62nd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, in Geneva this week (23 to 27 July).

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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