Terrible year as ivory seizures reach record levels03/01/2012 17:48:24 2011: "Annus horribilis" for African Elephants, says TRAFFIC
January 2012. As the year draws to a close, TRAFFIC warns that 2011 has seen a record number of large ivory seizures globally, reflecting the sharp rise in illegal ivory trade underway since 2007. Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800 kg in weight, that have taken place in 2011-at least 13 of them.
More than 2,500 elephants
The most recent case to come to light was of 727 ivory pieces discovered on 21st December concealed inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and destined for Asia.
Over the last 12 months, most large seizures of illicit ivory from Africa have originated from either Kenyan or Tanzanian ports.
"In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures-2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC's Elephant expert.
Milliken manages ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System); the illegal ivory trade monitoring system that TRAFFIC runs on behalf of Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). ETIS holds the details of over 17,000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures that have taken place anywhere in the world since 1989.
Once the records of hundreds of smaller ivory seizures are at hand, 2011 could well prove be the worst year ever for elephants in the database.
Rising demand and criminal gangs
The smugglers also appear to have shifted away from using air to sea freight: in early 2011, three of the large scale ivory seizures were at airports, but later in the year most were found in sea freight.
Africa to Asia
A typical example occurred in December 2011, when Customs in Malaysia seized 1.4 tonnes of ivory concealed inside a shipping container en route from Kenya to Cambodia. Once inside Asia, the documentation accompanying an onward shipment is changed to make it appear as a local re-export, helping to conceal its origin from Africa.
"That's an indication of the level of sophistication enforcement officers are up against in trying to outwit the criminal masterminds behind this insidious trade," said Milliken. "As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning."
In 2009, an ETIS analysis revealed a sharp increase in illicit ivory trade after steadily rising from 2004 onwards © TRAFFIC