In clearing a mistaken story about elephant ivory, an unexpected respite
It’s not often you can say “mea culpa” and be relieved at the same time, but that’s what happened with a statement made to the press just a few weeks ago.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare put out a release saying that a shipping container containing unknown quantities of ivory had been found at Mombasa harbour by Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) employees.
In fact, the shipping container actually contained cow horns according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Our information came from one small story in a Kenyan newspaper. We tried to verify the information, ringing the newspaper, KWS and KRA but were unable to verify the seizure in part due to the Easter holidays.
Given the possible size of the seizure, and the declining news value as the story grew more and more stale, we took a risk and went public with the news. Our plan was to continue to try and get confirmation and keep the information as up to date as possible.
Unfortunately the information was presented in the wrong way. For this, IFAW and I wholeheartedly apologise. We should have made it clear that the information on the seizure was unconfirmed and based on a media article.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when news started to trickle in that the container didn’t actually contain ivory. For once we had a brief respite from the almost unrelenting bad news of record ivory seizure after record ivory seizure. Even if the elephants were never really under threat, to me at least it felt as if dozens, if not hundreds of elephants had suddenly be given a new lease on life.
Ridiculous in a way, but that’s what happened.
The entire incident was also a vote of confidence for how we conduct our Prevention of Wildlife Trafficking (PWT) training sessions like the INTERPOL training I attended in Botswana last year.
IFAW’s PWT training sessions always involve officers from a number of different departments such as customs, forestry, environment or police. In many countries these different departments may never speak to one another and potentially lack some basic training. In this case it was the ability of KRA to accurately identify ivory. For the uninitiated, it’s not easy to identify ivory conclusively, but with the right training it can be done quickly.
The most alarming part of the scenario is the fact that no one batted an eyelid at the thought of an entire shipping container filled with ivory sitting at the port of Mombasa for three years.
I can’t think of a clearer signal that ivory trafficking is completely out of control.
IFAW will continue to track ivory seizures around the globe and alert the world to the massive slaughter of elephants that continues unabated. We will be more cautious in the future if we cannot corroborate information with either the journalist, the apprehending agency, the World Customs Organisation or INTERPOL. When we do however, we’ll make sure to bring these stories to your attention.
The horror of ivory trafficking is severe enough that it doesn’t need to be embellished – it needs to be stopped.