Three Tonnes of Ivory Vanish as Thieves Loot Southern Africa Stockpiles

Friday, 22 June, 2012
Cape Town, South Africa

The audacious looting by thieves of ivory stockpiles from two southern African countries in as many months – including the bumper theft of three tonnes of tusks in Zambia – has flagged concerns for the security of stockpiles throughout the subcontinent.

Earlier this week Zambia announced that three tonnes of tusks had been discovered missing from a vault at Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) headquarters, while in May, Botswana confirmed that 26 tusks had been taken from its vault in the border town of Kasane.

In both cases, swift action by ZAWA authorities apprehended suspects believed to be responsible for the thefts.

“Ivory stockpiles are a tempting source of rich pickings for crooks,” said Jason Bell, Director for the Elephant Programme of the International Fund for Animal Welfare ( “They are a security headache for any country tasked with the responsibility of managing such a valuable commodity.”

Bell said ZAWA was to be commended for its quick interception of the alleged thieves - two ZAWA game scouts were arrested in connection with the theft - but said it was disappointing to note that the three tonnes taken from its Chilanga strong room had been confiscated just three weeks earlier. The ivory has not yet been recovered.

“The targeting of stockpiles, Africa’s most secure sources of ivory indicates how far the illegal ivory trade is prepared to go to take to get what it wants. Unfortunately it is the foot soldiers of the traders, the common thieves, who risk their lives to supply this trade,” said Bell.

“Stockpiled ivory places an enormous burden of responsibility on every African country that has them, demanding intense management and draining scarce resources. These countries need every bit of support possible in enabling them to protect their wildlife.”

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.

Since February Operation Worthy, a project of INTERPOL and IFAW, spanning 14 African countries has arrested more than 200 people and seized almost two tonnes of contraband ivory, 20 kgs of rhino horn and military grade weaponry.

More than 320 officers from a range of agencies including Zambia and Botswana participated in wildlife crime interventions carried out at markets, ports, shops, border crossings and during roadside checks over the three month period.

“IFAW believes that one elephant killed for its ivory is one too many.  We will not stand by while elephants are needlessly slaughtered,” said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW’s Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme. “Some range states are doing their part in hosting and protecting their elephants – the rest of us must act to support them in these efforts. That means developed countries joining IFAW in training wildlife law enforcers, researching the illegal trade and ensuring the safety of our common natural heritage.”

“This has been to date the most wide-ranging operation coordinated by INTERPOL against the illegal ivory trade, not just in terms of seizures and arrests, but also in targeting the criminal organisations making millions of dollars through the killing and destruction of wildlife and their habitat, and associated crimes such as murder, corruption and money laundering,” said David Higgins, manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme.

“The intelligence gathered during Operation Worthy will enable us to identify the links between the poachers and the global networks driving and facilitating the crime. By identifying their international trafficking routes, arresting those involved at higher levels, and suppressing the crime at its source, in transit, and at its destination we are making a real contribution to the conservation of the world’s environment and biodiversity,” concluded Mr Higgins.

Countries which participated in Operation Worthy: Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

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 wwildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006. Just this month IFAW has conducted trainings in Bhutan, Congo Brazzaville, Dubaiand  and Kazakhstan.

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 Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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