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SOS Rhino : In the News : Tusk, tusk - ivory traders caught

Tusk, tusk - ivory traders caught


May 17 2003 at 11:11AM
By Graeme Hosken

Despite the 14-year international boycott on ivory trade, the slaughtering of elephants for their tusks may be rife in KwaZulu-Natal.

This has come to light following the arrest of four Durban men this week who were trying to sell two elephant tusks openly on the city's streets.

The men were arrested during a joint operation between the South African Police Service and the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNWL).

Detectives from Operation West and undercover investigators from EKZNWL swooped on the four men on Thursday night after receiving a tip-off from the Durban Crime Intelligence Gathering Unit.

'We have caught a lot of poachers smuggling ivory'

Operation West is a joint project between the Durban Organised Crime Unit and Durban Metro Police and is aimed at cracking down on West African crime syndicates operating in the city.

Investigators recovered the two 4kg tusks, which are from different elephants, and arrested the four men in a parking lot near the Point Yacht Club.

The men were selling both tusks, which are valued at R15 000 each, for R45 000. A bakkie used to transport the tusks was also confiscated.

According to wildlife investigators the animals from which the tusks came were young elephants aged between six and 10 years.

Since the launch of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in 1989, there has been a worldwide ban on international ivory trade.

EKZNWL investigator for endangered species, Sean McGuone, said that all recoveries of ivory were considered major breakthroughs in the fight against the illegal trade.

He said KwaZulu-Natal was one of the worst places in South Africa for poaching.

" We have a major problem with the poaching of our animals, especially endangered species, in this province with a lot of the animals being caught through snaring," he said.

McGuone said investigations into the latest recovery had still not revealed the origin of the elephants.

He said the tusks would be sent for DNA testing to determine whether they were South African elephants or not.

However, sources close to the investigation believe the tusks are possibly even from KwaZulu-Natal.

McGuone said they suspected the men may have been part of a larger organisation involved in smuggling ivory.

" Because the tusks are from two different elephants we believe there may be more ivory stashed away somewhere in Durban. We will be questioning the men further to determine the origin of the ivory and to find out where the rest is," McGuone said.

He said: "Most of ivory and rhino horn from South Africa is sent to the East where it is used in jewellery, name stamps and as aphrodisiacs".

McGuone said a massive anti-poaching drive in South Africa was proving extremely successful.

" We have caught a lot of poachers smuggling ivory across our borders from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola where the act of poaching is even worse than in South Africa," he said.

Inspector Eddie von Bargon of the Durban Metro Police, who was involved in the arrest, said the four men would be appearing in court next week where they would face charges of possession of and/or dealing in specially protected game.

If found guilty the men face a fine of R100 000 or more and/or a five year prison sentence. ©2003. All rights strictly reserved.

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