Tons of Ivory Seized in Zanzibar
Several tons of elephant ivory have been found concealed in a freight container on the island of Zanzibar. The seizure was made on Tuesday.
According to reports, the ivory was stuffed into plastic sacks containing sea shells – each weighing 50 kgs. The total weight seized has not been announced, but Zanzibar police officials said it amounted to several tons. Reports say two people – a clearing agent and businessman have been arrested.
The seizure comes amid a crackdown by Tanzanian authorities (Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania) aimed at disrupting what is described as a rampant poaching and ivory trafficking crisis in the country.
Last week Tanzanian police arrested three Chinese businessmen who were found in possession of 706 pieces of ivory and the week before that, a roadblock found 89 tusks concealed in the boot of a car.
“Tanzanian authorities are to be commended for the tough stance they are taking against poaching and trafficking,” said James Isiche, Regional Director IFAW East Africa (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org).
“We are seeing an encouraging increase in the vigour with which regional governments are tackling wildlife crime. Unfortunately their successes are only proving to highlight the extent of the problem – up to 50,000 elephants a year are being killed for their ivory. If we are to save elephants we need to address every link in the ivory chain. That means stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking and stopping the demand.
“Wildlife crime ranks among the most serious, dangerous and damaging of international crimes along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms sales,” said Isiche.
The announcement of yet another large scale haul of ivory in Tanzania comes on the same day that the US Government will destroy six tons of ivory, confiscated by them. The ivory crush features tusks, figurines and jewellery, and constitutes most of the US stockpile.
“It is a symbolic move by the US that supports their commitment to ending wildlife trafficking and sends a powerful message to poachers and traffickers that there is a determination to end their cruel and illegal activities,” said Grace Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW.
“IFAW strongly supports governments that destroy their ivory stockpiles. For one thing it is a symbolic gesture that highlights the plight of tens of thousands of elephants, but it also takes ivory out of circulation and renders it worthless. Only when the demand for ivory ends, will the killing stop,” said Gabriel.
At both the CoP15 (Doha, Qatar, March 2010) and CoP16 (Bangkok, Thailand, March 2013) of the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) decisions were made in which all member parties (countries) were encouraged to perform DNA testing of all large-scale ivory seizures.
“CITES made it clear that large scale ivory seizures implicate organized crime is behind the elephant poaching crisis, and the trafficking of ivory. CITES believes, and IFAW agrees, that forensic investigations of seized ivory must take place to better enable international enforcement efforts, as well help us understand illegal ivory trade routes better.
“CITES must keep the pressure on to ensure member parties comply,” said Gabriel.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as “white gold”. Limited availability of legal ivory in China purchased form the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephant to meet market needs.
As part of a worldwide capacity building initiative IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. The organization recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Interpol, the first ever signed by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme with an NGO. IFAW and Interpol have collaborated on numerous projects since 2005 including Interpol’s largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.