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Dar misses out on ‘biggest ever’ Africa trade bust
Posted: Wednesday November 19, 2008 12:49 AM BT
Interpol interventions in the illegal trade in ivory products in five African countries have seen more than one tonne being seized in Africa's largest-ever international crackdown on wildlife crime. Over the past weekend, undercover agents intercepted local dealers and brokers at ivory markets, border crossings and airports in the nations of Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia.
Tanzania was not included in the surveillance operation, although wildlife offences are rampant in all major national parks and conservation areas.

The operation was co-ordinated by Interpol and the Kenya Wildlife Service, and managed to take into custody 57 illegal traders across five African nations.

The haul also included animal skins and hippopotamus teeth.

Interpol said that similar trans-national operations will be carried out worldwide to combat wildlife crime.

Planning for the bust, dubbed Operation Baba, started in June in response to a plea to Interpol from African nations dealing with illegal elephant killings.

More than one tonne of ivory products - including powdered ivory and carved items - was recovered, as well as leopard, cheetah and serval cat skins.

"Co-operation among countries in East, West and Southern Africa against wildlife crime has set an inspired example," said Giuliano Zaccardelli, director of Interpol\'s Oasis programme that supports African law enforcement.

"Similar operations could also be conducted in Asia, the Americas and in any other region where criminal interests, including trafficking in illegal wildlife products, are common,`` he added.

Meanwhile, the first officially sanctioned sale of ivory in southern Africa for almost a decade opened on end of October this year.

Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe auctioned more than 100 tonnes of ivory from stockpiles to buyers from China and Japan. The money raised went into elephant conservation projects.

However, data collected by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic shows that seizures of illegal ivory fell in the years following the last legal sale in 1999.

We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade.

A statement from the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the UN body that sanctioned the sale, says it will monitor trade in China and Japan to make sure companies are not mixing illegally sourced ivory with these legal shipments.

The tusks sold came mainly from animals that died naturally. China and Japan are not permitted to export the material.

The ivory trade was banned globally in 1989 because poaching was decimating elephant populations. This and the 1999 sale are the only exceptions.

Late in October, the internet site eBay banned virtually all products containing ivory after lobbying from animal welfare groups.

The sale was approved in principle in 2002 and at last year's CITES meeting in The Hague, delegates agreed that enough precautions had been taken the auction could go ahead, with Japan as the sole validated buyer.

Earlier this year, CITES decided that China had acted against the illegal trade with enough vigour that Chinese companies could also bid for a share of the stockpiled ivory.

"We implement our international obligations to protect endangered wild animals, and we have always honoured our international obligations," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters as the auction opened.

This is contested by some environment groups, which argue that Chinese controls remain lax.

"We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade," said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation.

"For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth."

The issue starkly illustrates the divided fortunes of elephants across Africa.

In some states, particularly those in central and west Africa affected by civil unrest, populations are believed to be declining, partly because of poaching.

But in southern Africa, decades of protection and management have seen numbers rising by about 4 percent per year.

South Africa has recently approved in principle the use of culling to control populations.

The 1999 auction raised about USD5m for conservation and community projects.

But with Chinese buyers also involved, a total bounty of USD30m is said to be possible this time around.

Namibia auctioned its stockpile of nine tonnes same October, followed by Botswana's much larger disposal of 44 tonnes. The South African and Zimbabwean sales take place next week.

The 2007 CITES meeting that approved this sale also declared there should be no more for 10 years.


The Guardian - 19-11-2008
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