Ivory Busts – Cape Town a New Transit Point for Trafficking?
Yesterday’s seizure of 46 elephant tusks in Cape Town, the latest ivory related crime linked to the metropole, is fuelling concerns the South African city may be a fast developing cog for ivory transit in the wheel of wildlife crime.
Customs officials found the tusks – valued at about US$1,5-million - hidden behind boxes of wine in two shipping containers destined for Hong Kong. Two men were arrested and were to appear in court today.
“This is fifth ivory related incident linked to Cape Town since last November,” said Jason Bell, Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme. “Like all international trafficking we know that seizures reveal only the tip of the iceberg compared to the true scale of the problem. Given the numbers of ivory-crimes linked to Cape Town in the past months, it’s high time we began worrying about the city as a transit point for illegal ivory.”
Media reports of ivory related crime since November include:
- Seizure in Hong Kong in mid-November 2011 of a mixed consignment of elephant ivory items and rhinoceros horn, valued at a total of US$17,4-million. Seized from a ship that had departed from Cape Town.
- Seizure in Port Klang, Malaysia in January 2012 of elephant tusks weighing 500 kgs and valued at US$760,000 hidden in a container labeled “polyester and strand matting”. Port of origin, Cape Town.
- Appearance in court in Cape Town in January 2012 of two Chinese nationals caught in illegal possession of 15 full elephant tusks, and 22 partial tusks among other ivory items.
- Arrest in Cape Town in March 2012 of a Chinese national for possession of ivory and elephant tusk.
- Conviction in April 2012 of a Cape Town curio shop owner for illegal possession of ivory worth about US$4-million.
- Seizure on 11 July 2012 of 46 elephant ivory tusks, reported value US$1,5-million, found in shipping containers in a Cape Town storage facility and intended for delivery to Hong Kong.
Bell said the illegal ivory trade was constantly searching to develop new transit points from which to smuggle their goods.
“Ivory trafficking, like drugs and arms enriches international criminal syndicates and requires authorities to exercise the same sort of vigilance if it is to be controlled,” he said.
Last year, 2011, was cited by the organization TRAFFIC as the worst ever for ivory seizures globally with a collective 24,3 tonnes of ivory taken into custody, and showing a dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures weighing over 800 kgs each.
Most contraband ivory in Africa is smuggled into markets such as China where legal markets make it possible for criminals to easily launder black-market ivory.
Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.
IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. More than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.