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New report iden­ti­fies actions needed to cur­tail ille­gal ivory and rhino horn trafficking

pub­lished 28 Sep­tem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 28 Sep­tem­ber 2014

Ille­gal rhino horn trade has reached the high­est lev­els since the early 1990s, and ille­gal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300 per­cent from 1998 to 2011, accord­ing to a new report by U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment (USAID) part­ner TRAF­FIC. “This report pro­vides crit­i­cal insights into often vio­lent and com­plex trade net­works that will help coun­tries tar­get their law enforce­ment efforts. Wildlife traf­fick­ing not only endan­gers rhi­nos, ele­phants, and many other wildlife species, but also threat­ens national and inter­na­tional secu­rity as well as local liveli­hoods,” said Eric Pos­tel, Assis­tant Admin­is­tra­tor at USAID.

W-TRAPS-Elephant-Rhino-reportThe report, Ille­gal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assess­ment to improve law enforce­ment, is a key step to achiev­ing USAID’s vision to adapt and deploy a range of devel­op­ment tools and inter­ven­tions to sig­nif­i­cantly reduce ille­gal wildlife traf­fick­ing. The report was pre­pared by the wildlife mon­i­tor­ing net­work TRAF­FIC in part­ner­ship with USAID. The assess­ment uses robust analy­sis to iden­tify capac­ity gaps and key inter­ven­tion points in coun­tries com­bat­ing wildlife trafficking.

[wildlife law] enforce­ment agen­cies, […] need to improve col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts in order to dis­rupt the crim­i­nal syn­di­cates involved in this illicit trade
« Nick Ahlers, leader of USAID Wildlife TRAPS Project

Seizure data indi­cate that “the fun­da­men­tal trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia,” accord­ing to the report. In China and Thai­land, ele­phant ivory is fash­ioned into jew­elry and carved into other dec­o­ra­tive items, while wealthy con­sumers in Viet­nam use rhino horn as a drug which they mis­tak­enly believe cure hang­overs and detox­ify the body.

Rhi­nos and ele­phants are under seri­ous poach­ing pres­sure through­out Africa, with even pre­vi­ously safe pop­u­la­tions col­laps­ing: Cen­tral Africa’s for­est ele­phants have been reduced by an esti­mated 76 per­cent over the past 12 years while in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, ele­phant num­bers have fallen from 70,000 in 2007 to only 13,000 by late 2013. A record 1004 rhi­nos were poached in 2013 in South Africa alone — a stark con­trast to the 13 ani­mals poached there in 2007 before the lat­est cri­sis began. Record quan­ti­ties of ivory were seized world­wide between 2011 and 2013, with an alarm­ing increase in the fre­quency of large-​scale ivory seizures (500 kg or more) since 2000. Pre­lim­i­nary data already show more large-​scale ivory seizures in 2013 than in the pre­vi­ous 25 years. Although incom­plete, 2013 raw data already rep­re­sent the great­est quan­tity of ivory in these seizures in more than 25 years.

Both rhino horn and ivory traf­fick­ing are believed to func­tion as Asian-​run, African-​based oper­a­tions, with the syn­di­cates increas­ingly rely­ing on sophis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy to run their oper­a­tions. In order to dis­rupt and appre­hend the indi­vid­u­als behind them, the global response needs to be equally sophisticated.

There’s no sin­gle solu­tion to address­ing the poach­ing cri­sis in Africa, and while the crim­i­nals master-​minding and prof­it­ing from the traf­fick­ing have got­ten smarter, so too must enforce­ment agen­cies, who need to improve col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts in order to dis­rupt the crim­i­nal syn­di­cates involved in this illicit trade,” says Nick Ahlers, the leader of the Wildlife TRAPS Project.

Rhino horn is often smug­gled by air, using inter­na­tional air­ports as tran­sit points between source coun­tries in Africa and demand coun­tries in Asia. Since 2009, the major­ity of ivory ship­ments have involved African sea­ports, increas­ingly com­ing out of East Africa. As fewer than 5 per­cent of export con­tain­ers are exam­ined in sea­ports, wildlife law enforce­ment relies greatly on gath­er­ing and act­ing on intel­li­gence to detect ille­gal ivory shipments.

The report rec­om­mends fur­ther devel­op­ing coor­di­nated, spe­cial­ized intel­li­gence units to dis­rupt orga­nized crim­i­nal net­works by iden­ti­fy­ing key indi­vid­u­als and finan­cial flows and mak­ing more high level arrests. Also crit­i­cally impor­tant are improved train­ing, law enforce­ment tech­nol­ogy, and mon­i­tor­ing judi­ciary processes at key loca­tions in Africa and Asia.

(Source: USAID press release, 22.09.2014)

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