Posts Tagged With: Gabon

The Rape and Pillage of Africa’s Wildlife

The Chinese are welcomed into parts of Africa with increasing regularity to “work” and “aid” Africans with economic gains. With the intent of modernizing infrastructures (roads and railways), or to mine minerals or to offer government incentives, they have become integrated into at least 24 countries across the dark continent over the last five years.

chinese investment in africa 2010

A delicate and controversial marriage to say the least, as they seemingly covet Africa’s jobs, land and minerals.

One thing that cannot be denied is the boldness with which they have exploited Africa’s wildlife. According to Born Free USA,  “Chinese illicit ivory traffickers in particular have been arrested across nearly every single African range state, and operate at nearly every point along the ivory supply chain.”

Tanzania – In a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, interviews with poachers claim they have sold ivory to members of the Chinese Embassy. It also links a surge in the Tanzanian ivory market during an official visit from a Chinese naval task force and even claims that members of President Xi Jinping’s entourage smuggled ivory out of Tanzania on the presidential plane during his visit in March 2013.

 Republic of Congo – Asian migrant laborers are involved in the logging industry here (70-75% of which is illegal), and are in direct contact with elephants and other area wildlife. It has been suspected their presence has been responsible for increased poaching.

congolese worker watched by chinese foreman

Congolese worker being watched by Chinese foreman. photo: Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

Mathieu Eckel, head of the APU in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Congo has been watching activity of the Chinese construction camps in the area. He said “We’ve had many stories that involve local poachers and Chinese, but to get the Chinese you have to find them with the ivory”.

In previous attempts where workers in the area had been caught red-handed, corruption or incompetence of Congolese Prosecution has led to no charges being filed. (CNN Report)

Gabon – After seeing elephant skins hanging outside a construction camp, rangers raided the camp and seized carved chopsticks, horns sheared from a Bongo antelope, the scales of a pangolin, a quantity of unworked ivory, and breakfast: several servings of roasted elephant trunk.

Lee White, the head of Gabon National Parks said, “The suspicion is they were hiding the finished pieces (of ivory) in timber containers which were being shipped to China.”

Zimbabwe – Perhaps one of the most controversial and heartbreaking moves comes from the government allowing China to come into the National Park and remove elephants for their zoos, many of them have been infants ripped from their mothers. Zimbabwe’s defense- the sale of the elephants is needed to raise funds for conservation efforts. 

Zimbabwe elephant herd

A herd of African elephants drinking at a muddy waterhole in Hwange national Park in Zimbabwe. Photograph: Zdenek Maly/Alamy

Rhinos of course have also been a target. John Pameri, head of security and chief ranger at the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya believes the recent influx of Chinese construction workers into Kenya has helped to renew awareness among locals and crime networks that rhino horns can be sold for thousands of pounds on the black market.

“Our local intelligence suggests some of the poachers come from Somalia, but the demand is from the Chinese workers,” Pameri stated.

lewa rhino

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the two main rhino sanctuaries in East Africa. Luckily in 2014, with high security, they managed to evade any poaching incidents. photo: Lewa Conservancy

The Kenya Wildlife Service has also noted a correlation between the influx of Chinese labour and poaching, and has blamed the crisis on the increasing number of Chinese nationals living in Kenya. (There are currently between 3000-10000 Chinese living in Kenya).

Other victims found at these construction sites include giraffes, pythons, leopards and even local dogs being poached and consumed by the workers. In Zimbabwe authorities found 40 rare tortoises at a worker’s home, most of which were merely skeletal remains left after consumption.

But the culprits are not just in the construction sector, Chinese merchants often sell cheap trinkets and clothing in small shops throughout Africa, but the real money is in their back door business of wildlife trade. One such area revealed in an investigation by Hongxiang Huang and Oxpeckers exposed Katima, Namibia as a central hub of trading between trans-border African smugglers and Chinese shop keepers and traders.

Many of these shop owners are linked to the ivory trade in the guise of buying and selling of ivory souvenirs and artifacts for export and sale to tourists, which is perceived to be legal.

South Africa is seeing the largest flux of Chinese migrants. Wildlife trafficking syndicates here continue to brazenly sell rhino horn and ivory at the Chinese markets in SA’s own capital cities, even in the face of global attempts to crack down on the illicit trade in endangered species.

The Chinese have a poor track record when it comes to wildlife conservation, but African countries must accept responsibility for protecting their own wildlife. The price of losing the land and animals is too great to pay for any economic gain.

elephant coming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What to do with all that ivory and horn…

In light of the global demise of elephants and rhinos, many countries have made a symbolic gesture of commitment by destroying their ivory stockpiles.

China, the United States, Kenya, France, the Philippines, Gabon and Hong Kong have all taken part.

While some see this as a celebratory gesture, it is contested by others.

Black rhinoceros and Africa elephant, Africa

photo: John Downer/WWF

The price tag for a kilo of ivory on the black market is worth over $1800 usd , which makes your average elephant worth about $18,000. While a kilo of rhino horn can fetch $65,000 usd, making the average rhino worth $130,000.

Imagine how much one country’s stockpile may be worth? When the US destroyed it’s 6 ton stockpile, it was like decimating approximately $9,800,000 usd. Could that money have been sold to China, raising money for conservation? Or would it have simply fueled demand, bringing a quicker end to our imperiled elephants?

To destroy:

*Ivory and horn left intact has the good chance of finding its way back onto the market, perpetuating the demand and adding to the poaching.
*It sends a powerful statement to the world that it is NOT a commodity. There is no worth.
*It also sends the message that the country will not tolerate the trade.
*To store ivory and horn, it is a security burden to most countries.

ivory crushed in denver by steel

Ivory destroyed by a steel rock crusher in Denver, Colorado. photo: Alex Hofford

To keep:

*Saving horns and ivory allows records to be kept on genetics, both for historical purposes as well as for DNA evidence used in court cases.
*If legalization occurs, it can be sold to raise money for conservation.
*It can be used to train wildlife sniffer dogs in airports to help control trafficking.
*In general, it is argued destruction of ivory makes it more scarce, spiking the demand

afp rhino horn stockpile

It’s no secret South Africa is pushing for legal trade in rhino horn. Their current stockpile stands at over 18 tons. photo” AFP

 

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Breaking the Silence on Poaching

Summit photo

Namibia, Tanzania, Togo, and Gabon leaders meet with the US Sec of State to discuss wildlife trafficking.

Washington DC:  African leaders and the US Secretary of State sit in a casual setting, exchanging niceties and discussing the decimation of our world’s wildlife, mainly elephants.

This week is the US African Leaders Summit, bringing together 50 African leaders and President Obama. Topics of discussion during the three-day summit include security, trade and governance.

During the wildlife trafficking discussion, Tanzania’s President, Jakaya Kikwete, seemed frustrated over the lack of unity throughout neighboring countries.

“The elephants are killed in Tanzania,” said Kikwete, “but the consignment [of ivory] came from Kampala, Uganda. And moved through Mombasa,” the main port of Kenya. “So there is definitely need for working together.”

Togo

Tusks from Gabon’s forest elephants were tracked through Togo en route to Asian countries.

The President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe, expressed concern over elephant poaching, which is ironic as there are no elephants there. He stated tusks confiscated in Hong Kong and Malaysia were traced back to Togo.

 

 

Gnassingbe said, “This is an embarrassment. We don’t want to be seen as a country that kills elephants it doesn’t have.”

After months of investigating the source of ivory was discovered. He said “Many of those tusks came from…(he then turned apologetically toward his left to Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba)….my friend’s country.”

Gnassingbe went on to say that until the US brought this up, Gabon had never mentioned the issue of poaching. In fact, this is the first time many of them have had this discussion in a group setting. This begs the question “Why is there no continental strategy to end poaching?”

When asked what they would like from the US to combat poaching, the overall consensus was equipment. The ranger death toll is escalating, as they are deep in a war in which they are outmanned, outgunned and under trained.

Namibia asked for helicopters, Tanzania requested night vision goggles, Togo wants infrared scanners, and Gabon-military support.

But in addition, Ondimba apprehensively brought up the “elephant in the room”; diplomatic pressure on China, stating-

 “Let’s kill the market. We’ll save the animals, we’ll also save human being.”

gabon forest eles

Gabon forest elephants

 

 

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Building Bridges or Killing Elephants?

China’s ever-increasing presence in African countries can’t be ignored. Since the 90’s, China has been staking its claim in oil, infrastructure and mining projects across the dark continent. What does their business mean to Africans? Is this an economic investment or a global takeover? Either way, what can’t be denied is the environmental sabotage in their wake. (See previous post: Africa’s Asian Invasion)

They have built  controversial damns across the continent (Gabon, Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Sudan) which have had adverse environmental impact. For example, in Ghana  the  Bui Dam Project  is flooding nearly a quarter of the Bui National Park, destroying habitat for rare hippos, forcibly resettling 2,600 people and affecting thousands more.

bui dam

Bui Dam

They are also responsible  for long-term river and farmland pollution from mining projects in South Africa and Ghana.  One recent project, the China-Africa Sunlight Energy has received permission to mine coal in  Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.  This is a delicate and crucial wildlife area that mining will likely damage, as well as exposing the wild animals to poaching.

But perhaps the most obvious infraction on mother nature is in the killing of the elephants to smuggle their ivory.

Chinese construction camps in Africa have long been suspected of smuggling ivory. A CNN report reveals that numerous camps in the Republic of Congo and neighbouring countries are suspected of facilitating the large-scale ivory trade.

tbd

Rangers hunting the hunters in the Congo.

Although workers at the camps have at times been caught red-handed, prosecution does not come easy. Actual investigation of the camps is even more difficult, as in once incident  a regional prosecutor blocked an anti-poaching unit from searching a camp – even though ivory pieces were found there.

According to  CNN, when asked about the incident, the prosecutor said the search was halted because the translator for the Chinese was away and they couldn’t conduct a search without explaining to the Chinese why it was happening.

Many of these camps are set up near small villages, which have their own track record of poaching involvement.  Poor villagers, ivory-hungry workers-a potent combination; but add in law enforcement turning a blind eye, it’s a complete disaster.

tbd

Ranger examining elephant trunk after poaching in the Congo.

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Man’s (and now Rhino’s) Best Friend

Bloodhound and ranger in Virunga Nat. Park.

Bloodhound and ranger in Virunga Nat. Park.

With poaching so prevalent, too much space and too little manpower, a different approach is being utilized to stop poachers. Dogs.

In the Congo, an elite canine anti-poaching unit is employed to track down elephant poachers. Specially trained bloodhounds, who require a 2 year training program, have already aided rangers in chasing poachers down. In Virunga National Park, the first instance out they pursued the suspects for 7km.

In South Africa, the Rhino Orphanage is training dogs to help keep track of and protect the baby rhinos; rhino security if you will.  (see: Duma: The Rhino Dog)

In Gabon, dogs are being utilized in the airport to detect illegal wildlife. The program has been quite successful, with the canines finding shark fin and bushmeat in addition to ivory.

Gabon's tracking team works for a tennis ball.

Gabon’s tracking team works for a tennis ball.

Green Dogs Conservation and Congohounds  are two non-profit groups situated in South Africa, specializing in training dogs for anti-poaching and other conservation purposes. Trained similar to police dogs, they are given basic training and aptitude testing, matching the right dog to the right situation.

As Green Dogs points out, 60% of the brain of a dog is devoted to smell. They can detect scents we aren’t even aware of. Congohounds states, bloodhounds can detect a single smell out of 5 million!

Search and rescue dogs have long been trained to find people, landmines, drugs, and even cancer. With their phenomenal sense of smell and high energy, it’s a perfect fit to train them to track and detain poachers.

Duma and Ntombi getting acquainted.

Duma and Ntombi getting acquainted.

 

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