By Faris Al Hashmi
Muscat - Oman is used as a transit point for illegal wildlife trade, especially ivory from elephants poached in Africa, an environmental expert has said.
He was speaking during a five-day Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) workshop at Crowne Plaza Muscat on Sunday.
"In general, the main problem in this region is not related to their species,” said Dr Akram Darwich, programme manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Dubai.
“It's the transit.” He said around 20,000 elephants are poached a year, mostly in Africa. Their tusks are then sent to East Asia, mostly China, but the Middle East acts as a transit hub. He said ivory is coveted in China for cultural reasons.
"It's a historical and traditional habit.”
Dr Darwich said that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) outlaws ivory trade and Oman is among the 180 countries which are signatories to this treaty. Illegal ivory trade reached its peak in 2011, according to data issued by CITES in 2013.
It said Africa was likely to lose a fifth of its elephants in the next ten years. It mentioned Tanzania and Kenya as key exit ports, with the ivory eventually making it to Malaysia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, en route to China. It also mentioned UAE as one of the emerging transit countries. Dr Darwich said black market trade was the greatest challenge in enforcing the law.
"We have to strengthen the capacity-building at border points, airports and sea ports,” he said. “It's necessary to have cooperation between national authorities.” The workshop, which is is focusing on combating illegal wildlife trade, will also discuss protected species.