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SOS Rhino : In the News : Kenya transit point for animal trade

Kenya transit point for animal trade

  Monday, 13 February 2006, 17 hours, 19 minutes and 2 seconds ago.  


  Kenya has been singled out as one of the leading transit points for the illegal animal trade destined for Europe and Asia.  

According to a recent report titled Ivory Markets of Europe, most of the ivory originates from war-torn countries of sub-Saharan Africa where laws against the killing of wildlife are almost non-existent.

The document cites central Africa as one of the sources of ivory that passes through Kenya and other East African countries.

A small fraction of the tusks originates from East Africa and other southern African states, the 104-page document adds. 

Other products that find their way to Europe and Asia are rhinoceros horns, rare birds and reptiles. 

Organised crime 

According to Interpol, the international organisation dealing with organised crime, illegal trade on wildlife has grown three-fold, hitting a high of $31 billion annually.

The illicity trade, Interpol says, is now second to drug trafficking.

Kenya Wildlife Service head of communications Connie Maina concurs, saying most trophies that pass through Kenya come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

Ms Maina says KWS is working with the Lusaka Agreement Task Force to curb trafficking.

"Tusks that have been seized in airports and major towns in Kenya are mainly from central Africa," she says.

However, poaching for valuable animal parts in Kenya no longer exists due to increased patrols in national parks and protected areas.

"It is poaching for game meat that still exists and we are also fighting it," she adds.

Ms Maina said the last time ivory in transit was intercepted in Kenya was last year when law enforcement officers seized two tusks from Tanzania weighing 30kg. 

Kenya's efforts aside, the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) is worried that if the trend continues, some of the world's endangered species could become extinct.

Mr Wayne Hettenbach of the US Department of Justice, says concerns expressed by Unep ought to be taken seriously by all United Nations member states.

Mr Hettenbach observes that individuals are now using sophisticated methods to smuggle animal parts into the US. 

While some disguise the products as handicraft, others conceal them as part of hazardous waste consignments to beat the elaborate security network.

Citing the US experience, Mr Hettenbach argues that most culprits falsify permits and use fake transport documents.

"You must look out for expired, fake and incomplete copies. CITES certificates from exporting countries must also be produced," the US official says.

Some mail their contraband through the post. 

Research, which covered Africa, Asia and Europe for the last six years, leading to the publication of the document, discovered that more than 5,000 elephants are killed annually in the illegal ivory trade in Africa. 

Endangered species 

African elephants are considered endangered and are listed in Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild plants and animals (CITES).

Most of the ivory are destined to the lucrative Chinese and Thailand markets where ivory-made items are still considered goods of ostentation.

However, the document argues that China would pose the greatest threat to the survival of African elephants if the country's ever-expanding middle class adopted ivory as part of fashion.

According to Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles, authors of the report, the most threatened species is the forest elephant that roams the dense forests of Africa. 

In Kenya they roam the Aberdare forest, feeding on the lush vegetation of the volcanic mountain. "Studies show that poachers tend to go for forest elephants other than the Savannah elephants and many value the former more than the latter," Dr Martin added.

The Unep is now urging customs officials to be vigilant in curbing the crime.

According to Ms Elizabeth Mrema, a senior legal officer at Unep, the officials must insist on checking the validity of transit documents, adding that consignments that appear genuine might contain rare animal products. 

"Custom officials should be involved in the whole process of investigations and prosecution of culprits if gains against the trade are to be made," Ms Mrema added.

However, a major concern in African countries is the lack of modern equipment. 

Many points of entry lack the high-tech equipment found in the major airports of Europe and Asia and that is why smugglers prefer to pass their consignments through Africa rather than Europe or North America.

Equipment at most entry points in Africa are outdated and inspectors are often outsmarted by criminals who have learned how to dodge security.

Unep believes lack of expertise is partly the reason many animal parts from Africa find their way to Europe. 

To solve the problem, the environmental organisation has stated training custom officers on international laws and ways of detecting illegal consignments.

The first training of officers from East Africa took place late last year in Tanzania, Arusha. The organisation plans to extend this training programme to other parts of the continent.

Despite the shortcomings in many African countries, rich countries also need to change their attitude towards ivory and rare animals which still fetch a fortune in the black market.

The report, for example, says Germany is the leading consumer of ivory in Europe where about 16,444 ivory items in 188 outlets were counted. "There are at least nine carvers still working in Germany in the small towns of Erbach and Michelstadt. They have produced most of the jewellery and figurines," the report adds.

According to the document, United Kingdom had the highest number of retail outlets selling ivory – a total of 776.

However, the report adds that 98 per cent of the items on sale at these outlets are old ivory stocks, a sign that stringent laws are bearing fruit. 

Environmentalists attribute the high volume of rare animal parts originating from central Africa to the war in the great lakes region, mainly the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Elephant population 

The report says most of the ivory destined to Asia and Europe passes through the major towns like Lagos, Dakar, Douala, Maputo, Cairo and Khartoum. 

Conservation expert Dr Stiles is concerned that the elephant population in Africa could disappear in 30 years if markets in the continent are not controlled.

Dr Stiles argues that pressure from some African countries to sell their ivory stockpiles after CITES allowed some southern African states like South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to sell their tusks might trigger poaching in areas where the activity was minimal or non-existent. 

"This could trigger poaching to the detriment of endangered species if not carefully handled," the conservationist warns.

Citing the Kenyan case, former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director Richard Leakey argues that poaching could return to the country if KWS loses its major source of revenue, which is gate collection fees. 

The conservationist says KWS' source of revenue must be guarded at all cost. 

"That is the money that pays rangers and reducing it would mean reduced surveillance on our animals," Dr Leakey adds.

But increased trade in animal parts is not the only issue worrying Unep.

The organisation accuses African governments of failing to enforce multi-lateral agreements that protect the environment.

Organic pollutants 

Some of the conventions that African government have failed to fully implement include the Stockholm Convention whose objective is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants, and the Rotterdam Convention which aims at restricting certain chemicals which are considered hazardous.

There are 41 restricted chemicals under Rotterdam Convention; 24 are pesticides, 11 industrial chemicals and six are severely hazardous pesticide formulations.

Others are the Basel Convention which controls trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste and their disposal; the Montreal Protocol that controls the use of ozone-depleting substances which have been blamed for triggering global warming.

Cases where toxic wastes have been dumped in coastlines of third world countries by multi-national companies in the western world for a fee also worries Unep.

Though no country had dumped dangerous chemicals on the Kenyan coastline, the area has experienced several oil spills which have threatened marine life.

Unep argues that such catastrophes can only be avoided if the conventions were strictly applied.

Source : Nation Media

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