Thursday, July 8, 2010

The ongoing slaughter of rhino and elephant


While I was browsing the web looking for the latest news on rhino poaching in South Africa, I stumbled upon an excellent essay written by
Aidan Hartley, a Kenyan journalist and a columnist for The Spectator.

Hartley’s essay is about the illegal ivory trade in Tanzania involving elephants, and not rhinos, but yet there are striking similarities to South Africa’s rhino dilemma where well organized crime syndicates are supplying the growing demand to Asian ‘clients’. Hartley’s investigation strongly suggests that corrupt Tanzanian officials were either directly involved or implicated in the illegal ivory trade, and that the Chinese were the main customers.

(Hartley’s essay, “Will China kill all Africa’s elephants?” can be read further down in this posting, - just below the Big 5 Steers advert).

Killing of rhino continues, despite arrests.


The South African National Parks (SANParks) said in a recent statement (1 July 2010) that rhino poaching throughout South Africa has continued to escalate at an unprecedented rate since the beginning of the year, and that the total number of rhinos killed in the country this year now stands at 124. The same report mentions that authorities have so far made 42 arrests (22 of them in the Kruger National Park) this year.

According to a recent report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) criminal syndicates involved in the illegal ivory trade in Africa are becoming more and more sophisticated. The report mentions the names of several members of a poaching syndicate implicated in offences committed between December 2005 and August 2006. Within this time 17 rhinos were killed and their horns cut off in the Kruger National Park, the Mfolozi National Park and game farms in the Bela Bela (old Warmbaths) and Komatipoort districts.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) "…the accused committed these offences as members of a group consisting of hunters, a pilot, middlemen (agents) and buyers, who illegally hunted rhinos and traded in the horns stolen from the rhino carcasses." The authorities have managed to freeze R45 million worth of assets belonging to the syndicate.

The criminal trial is scheduled to start in the North Gauteng High Court on 11 October 2010. The accused face charges of racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft, malicious damage to property and contraventions of various provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act. Three of the accused have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their involvement in the illegal actions of the group.

In a separate matter unrelated to the above, a 29-year-old Vietnamese national, Xuan Hoang, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a Kempton Park Magistrate’s court, on 29 June 2010, for possession of seven rhino horns after he was apprehended trying to smuggle his cargo through OR Tambo International airport. The 16kg of rhino horn, was worth a staggering R2.2 million in his country!

Despite these recent arrests, South Africa’s precious rhinos are still being shamelessly butchered, -- simply because the value of their horns on the black market can easily reach prices as high as R19 000 per kg.

Recent Rhino Killings

While South Africa was focused on hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, two more mutilated rhino corpses where discovered in the Kruger National Park. This happened sometime near the end of June 2010. View full report: Mutilated rhino corpses found in Kruger.

In addition to the above, two more mutilated carcasses were discovered recently in the North West and Limpopo regions of South Africa.

A butchered rhino cow was discovered on the morning of 1 July 2010 in the Borakalalo National Game Park in North West when members of the anti-poaching unit heard four shots fired. The other rhino was found dead near Bela Bela.

Rusty Hustler, head of counter-poaching in North West, immediately deployed his units and summoned a helicopter as back-up to find the gunmen. A police helicopter zoomed in to assist in the chase.

No poachers were apprehended, but rangers discovered yet another dead rhino in the bushes. It seemed she was killed a week ago and her horn hacked off with a panga.

Ballistic experts could not find any bullets in the carcass. This led investigators to conclude that the rhino was darted with tranquilising drugs before her horn was severed, then left to die of trauma and organ failure.

Meanwhile the focus of investigators is increasingly falling on helicopters allegedly used in poaching operations.

Last Sunday a family from Thabazimbi in Limpopo took photographs of a helicopter, an R44, which, they told investigators, had been flying suspiciously over their farm. The aircraft registration numbers had been deliberately covered over. Farmer Piet van Rensburg subsequently posted a photograph of the helicopter on the aviation website, Avcom.

When the helicopter landed on a rocky outcrop, Van Rensburg's son-in-law drove up to have a closer look. But before he could confront the occupants the helicopter flew off, as if to escape scrutiny.

Other postings said the same helicopter was spotted flying low in the Bela Bela and Modimole areas earlier that week. The identity and ownership of the helicopter spotted on the Van Rensburgs' farm is known to Independent Newspapers.

The police, who believe the helicopter's pilot flies on a freelance basis for two interlinked poaching syndicates, are following up leads expected to tie the aircraft to the poachers. Source: www.iol.co.za

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
(I Timothy 6:10)




Will China kill all Africa’s elephants?


By Aidan Hartley (Spectator.co.uk)

Aidan Hartley investigates the illegal ivory trade in Tanzania, and discovers that hundreds of kilos of bloody tusks from poached elephants are being smuggled out each year.

At first he was coy. ‘Yes my brother,’ Salim the dealer smirked. ‘How many kilos you want?’ It had taken us only a day to find a man in Tanzania who would sell us ivory tusks from poached elephants. We met Salim in a Dar es Salaam hamburger joint and the whole exchange was ridiculously easy. I asked him: ‘How many kilos have you got?’

‘I have 50, 100, 200 kilo. How much you want?’

‘How about 200 kilos?’ I challenged. Salim licked his lips. At Tanzanian prices, this was worth $24,000. On the international black market, it could fetch $200,000. That meant dozens of dead elephants.

This week CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) quashed an appeal by African countries to relax a 20-year trade ban in ivory. Many conservationists argue that keeping ivory off the market will kill the trade in dead elephants’ tusks, but there is nothing to prove that on the ground in Tanzania.

But even with a trade ban, what I witnessed with my TV producer Alex Nott while filming in East Africa suggests that the elephant population is in freefall. Tanzania’s wildlife chief Erasmus Tarimo recently called poaching in the Selous — the country’s biggest game reserve — ‘minimal’. But by the government’s own figures, the Selous has ‘lost’ 31,000 elephants in just three years.

The Selous still has 40,000 surviving elephants, but when I visited this huge wilderness I became sickened by seeing so many fresh elephant carcasses: bullet-riddled, heaving with maggots, skulls hacked up with axes where poachers extracted the tusks. And what astonished me was that this was going on under the noses of foreign tourists, each of them paying a fortune to visit Tanzania’s game parks.

Elephants are a ‘flagship’ species for wildlife tourism — Tanzania’s biggest foreign exchange earner. Tourism accounts for one fifth of the national GDP in one of the world’s most impoverished countries. If the elephants vanish, so will the tourists, and Tanzanians would have even fewer prospects of digging their way out of extreme poverty. The allegation is that corrupt officials are either directly involved or implicated in poaching.

‘I think the wildlife department know exactly what’s going on here and if they’re not doing it, they’re sanctioning it,’ a safari operator in the Selous told me. This man had seen hundreds of elephants poached and had his life threatened for wanting to talk about it. I asked if top officials were involved.

‘I don’t think you can take this much ivory out of a park like this without some very well-placed people running block for you,’ replied the operator. Back in Dar es Salaam I went to ask Tanzania’s government officials.

‘No, I’m sorry. I can’t say anything unless I get the authority,’ said senior wildlife officer Obedi Mbangwa. As it happened, after obtaining official accreditation ($1,000), multiple letters and several visits to the Wildlife HQ, a female official had summoned us to an interview that very morning. ‘What she said is not what she meant,’ said Mbangwa.

Such doublespeak is routine in Tanzania, a country still ruled by the North Korean-inspired ruling Revolutionary party — which hopes to win national elections again this year after 49 years in power. Here, officials in Mao suits still call each other ‘ndugu’, or ‘comrade’. But outside the wildlife department, the car park was filled with very expensive-looking vehicles.

The next day we met Salim and another dealer, Daudi, at a petrol station. They got in our car and Daudi produced a tusk that still had dried blood on it. I asked, ‘Do many mzungus [white people] buy these, or is it mainly the Chinese?’

‘All the time the Chinese come. Many, yes! Yes!’ exclaimed Daudi.

In the 1970s, thousands of Chinese labourers were imported to build a railway from Dar es Salaam to Zambia’s copper belt. They took down the portraits of Chairman Mao years ago, but today you see Chinese everywhere in Dar es Salaam. In Africa, there are now two million nationals from the People’s Republic. They are here to extract Africa’s resources: its oil, its minerals.

But they are also eating Africa. At the camps for Chinese road gangs there are piles of empty tortoise shells. Locals say there is not a dog for miles around, nor many donkeys. Elephant carcasses are mysteriously shorn of their testicles. China is ripping out Africa’s timber, the sandalwood, rhino horn, the fish, the seahorses, the sea slugs. Now Asia’s tigers are almost gone, Africa’s big cats are next: their claws and their vital organs being turned into medicines.

The new illegal ivory trade is booming because China’s middle classes want to buy ivory trinkets like chopsticks. Apart from spreading poverty, elephant poaching is also behind the proliferation of illegal guns across Africa, fuelling ethnic bloodletting. In northern Kenya we had recently encountered an elephant body spattered with bullets, and 200 metres away a site where 62 people were massacred in a tribal raid several months ago. British defence sources estimate there are 200,000 illegal rifles in Kenya. Ivory dealers hand out many of them on credit to poachers, who then use them in tribal raids.

I am told that many Chinese believe elephants’ tusks are like teeth that can be removed without killing the animal. I wondered what middle-class Chinese would think if they knew they were driving tribal conflict in Africa.

In Africa these days it is hard to compete with the Chinese. But back in the car I did try boasting to Daudi and Salim. ‘We’re serious buyers,’ I said.

‘We’re going to my friend’s home,’ Daudi revealed. ‘To show you something.’ They had seemed suspicious. I worried about leaving the safety of a public place with these gangsters. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked. Daudi replied, ‘Yeah, we’re not prepared to show you with many people. And this place is where we do many business.’

We entered a compound, walked past piles of rubbish, a child playing in the dust. A man working as a lookout put down his broom and led us inside. I could hear the voices of others upstairs and several times while we were in the house calls came through to Salim’s phone. ‘Yeah, they’re still looking,’ he told them.

We were shown a pile of bloody tusks, poorly carved ivory figurines and vulgar trinkets. I asked, ‘How do the Chinese get it out?’

‘The Chinese go to the airport and pay a bribe. The most important thing is money. If you have money, it’s easy.’

‘You’ve got some friends here that can organise it?’

‘Yeah, my friend works at the airport. Security. Here, no problem, here the problem is only money. Without money, you can’t do anything.’

‘Yeah, he’s not the manager, he’s security. They want money.’

Their biggest customer, they said, was a Chinese man who bought 200 kilos at a time. ‘He’s VIP,’ said Daudi.

‘VIP?’ I queried. ‘Is he a diplomat — at the embassy here?

‘Yeah. Yeah. Chinese government.’ Daudi said the Chinese VIP used his diplomatic bag to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania. ‘Nobody checks,’ he said.

Then he claimed that last year Chinese officials who flew into Dar es Salaam accompanying President Hu Jintao on his state visit to Tanzania used it as a chance to buy illegal ivory.

‘You know when President of China, Hu Jintao, was coming to Tanzania… remember? They come to take many things here…’ I was surprised and asked, ‘When Hu Jintao visited here, they went away with a lot of ivory?’

‘Yeah,’ said Daudi. ‘But that was not for Hu Jintao, it was the whole group. He didn’t have a chance to visit. Then they go direct to the airport because VIP, no one checks your bags, you just carry.’ Daudi claimed it was a profitable day.

I asked, ‘How much did you charge?’

‘$1,000 for one tusk.’

Daudi was warming to me. He appeared to think we might be big buyers. He now made us a truly amazing offer.

I asked him, ‘How many kilos can you get?

‘As many as you want,’ Daudi said. ‘Even if you say 1,000 kilos.’

Daudi said he had ‘many friends’ and he just needed to phone round the villages on the margins of Tanzania’s game parks and reserves. It would take a month.

We made our excuses and left. We did not want to fuel ivory poaching. But there are plenty of other buyers across Africa and I wondered what hope there is if buying a tonne of ivory is so easy.

Article at: www.spectator.co.uk

Picture Credit (Dead Rhino): bushwarriors.files.wordpress.com

Related Post:

We are living among savages

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The Big 5 Steers advert was a clever addition for this posting. Hilarious!

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