By Gilbert Koech
Kenya Wildlife Service increased surveillance at the port of Mombasa has been recognised in a new report.
The report, Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory, by Born Free USA, has tabulated the global ivory supply chain figures says that the Mombasa port registered the most illegal ivory seizures worldwide in 2013-2014.
The volume of seized ivory replaced Dar Es Salaam port, which had the highest number of seizures globally.
“Mombasa has the highest number of seizures globally by volume – some 18 tonnes between 2009-2013 by C4ADS’s count – but despite a large number of containers that were seized in Asia and known to have originated from Tanzania, very few seizures are actually made at Tanzanian ports, likely due to mismanagement and corruption at port facilities,” says the report.
It says once ivory has been removed from an elephant, there is an abrupt transfer from the poachers to more professional trafficking networks capable of nesting their illicit activities within the legal international trade and transportation systems.
It adds that between 2009 and June 2014, 18,817 kilogrammes of ivory were seized at the Mombasa port while 17,712 kilogrammes were nabbed in Hong Kong.
Another 16,009kg were seized in Hai Phong port in Vietnam,12,078kg in Xiamen Port, China, while 8,043kg were nabbed in Port Klang in Malaysia.
KWS acting director general William Kiprono said seizures came following upgraded surveillance at all ports of entry in Kenya.
Nearly all the ivory nabbed from Mombasa comes from neighbouring countries.
"Beside active security operations to hunt down poachers, KWS has enhanced surveillance and detection through use of scanners at port of entry and exits to detect wildlife contraband," Kiprono said.
He said the 566 new rangers who recently graduated at Law Enforcement Academy, Manyani, were more trained on sophisticated methods to prevent poaching and catch illegal ivory. "Poachers better be on the run because more eyes are now trained on you!" He said.
In Kenya poaching has been on a downward spiral.
Up to the end of last month, Kenya had lost 116 elephants and 26 rhinos to poachers. Comparatively, the country lost 384 elephants and 30 rhinos in the year 2012 and about 289 elephants and 29 rhinos in the year 2011.
According to the Born Free report, poaching networks across Africa collude with some politicians, security forces, and even wildlife rangers, and buy the local support needed to find and kill elephants.
The report says African local transport leg of the supply chain is by itself an extremely long and complicated route, adding that ivory travels hundreds of miles from remote and infrastructure-deficient bushes to major urban centers for consolidation and containerisation.
Born Free used information from C4ADS’s ivory seizure database of over 500 ‘significant’ seizures since 2008.
Nearly every seizure has been investigated in-depth with a view of collecting available open source information on location of seizure, weight, origin and transit countries, linked individuals and entities, as well as their associated properties, including beneficial ownerships, phone numbers, addresses.
The report further tries to explain how traffickers hide the ivory in transit.
It says some networks utilize materials such as garlic sauce or fish to hide the smell of decomposing ivory, or create false backs within containers to hide contraband from inspectors. Others rely on the strength of their port contacts.
“Smuggling patterns can change; modus operandi, methods of obfuscation, type of obfuscation materials, the characteristics of consignors, and the choice of routes can all evolve and adapt, but they can also collectively amount to a “signature.” This signature can help trace back the origins of a network and create risk metrics to more effectively harden the shipping system against known violators and trafficking techniques,” it says.
The nexus between criminal syndicates and corrupt freight logicians may be particularly important, as without legitimate freight forwarders and shipping agents to help obscure the paperwork and the true consignment details, consignments would be much more vulnerable to interception," it adds.
The report says Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar accounted for 5 percent of all ivory weight seized between 2009 and 201, while in 2013, figures suggests that as much as 80 percent of large-scale ivory seizures were in either Kenya, Tanzania, or Uganda.
It cites Abidjan as another concern, as it is a major routing hub for West African shipping activity sharing many of the same characteristics as Mombasa.
The report says airborne flows account for the majority of trafficking incidents by number.
It further says the end of the African local transport leg is usually the point where African poaching networks hand off to Asian trafficking networks.
“Asian networks appear to be trying to move downstream to control more aspects of the local transport chain; most Asian trafficking networks appear to have facilitators permanently or temporarily based in range states, to arrange or facilitate consignments,” the report says.
It adds that traffickers use a lot of money to lease one, or multiple containers along one of the more expensive global shipping lanes, and indirect costs of bribing or co-opting customs officials, freight logicians, and other facilitators needed to successfully move illicit products.
“Traffickers set up shell companies to consign the product while hiding ownership details, which requires additional expertise and funds. Goods can be transshipped through multiple transit points, where networks may or may not also have facilitators to expedite travel."
The report says there is need for more carefully-targeted enforcement efforts at the ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar, and due diligence along global transport chains.
It further calls for treatment of Ivory as an organised crime, and not a conservation issue.