Posts Tagged With: trafficking

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.”


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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Are Americans Grasping the Plight of the Rhino?

In a recent poll by the Center for Biological Diversity:

61 percent of Americans said they are concerned about the rate that wildlife are disappearing.

2 out of 3 Americans believe Congress should strengthen, or not make any changes to the Endangered Species Act.

Half of those polled think the country is doing too little to protect imperiled plants and animals, and that too many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction.

Much of this recent attitude has to be credited to President Obama’s executive order to combat wildlife trafficking.

Timeline in Rhino & Elephant Crisis Awareness in the US

  • May 2013- Miss USA, South African born Nana Meriwether, advocates for the plight of the rhino.
  • Jul 2013- President Obama announced the Executive Order to combat wildlife trafficking
  • Sept 2013-March for Elephants released the Elephant in Times Square billboard, educating thousands of Americans on the poaching crisis.
  • Sept 2013- Animal Planet’s Battleground Rhino Wars aired in the US, introducing many to the rhino poaching crisis for the first time.
  • Sept 2013- US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Southern White Rhino as threatened.
  • Mar 2014- US philanthropist Howard Buffet gave a generous 24 million donation to fight rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.
  • Jun 2014- New York passes historic ban on elephant ivory and rhino horn sales (with 80% of New Yorkers in favor of the ban)
by: Ryan Huertas

by: Ryan Huertas

Of course the US still has a way to go, but for a country who at one point was the second largest ivory market to enact a ban in its most populated state, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at. This victory will set the precedence for the rest of the nation.

Additionally, if the latest backlash against well-known hunters Melissa Bachman, Corey Knowlton, and Kendall Jones is any indication, momentum is leading toward a ban against trophy imports as well.

Please take a moment to thank the President and ask him to stand strong against those who oppose the ivory ban. President Obama: Keep Fighting Poaching








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CITES Recap on Rhino

Another CITES meeting has come and gone. So what does it mean for rhinos?

rhino in grass

In 2013 Vietnam and Mozambique were directed to strengthen their efforts on poaching and the trade of rhino horn.


Vietnam’s report to CITES, indicates they are taking steps to improve the situation, including initiating a rhinoceros horn demand reduction programme and tweaking their laws and regulations.

According to CITES,  “It is evident that Vietnam has managed to set in motion a political momentum to combat illegal wildlife trade, which has significantly contributed to tangible progress in its efforts to implement measures to combat illegal rhinoceros horn trade more effectively.”

Although encouraging, according to Save the Rhino, one area of concern is the limited custodial sentences for trafficking rhino horn, which they have acknowledged is an area for improvement. Heavy sentencing is a crucial deterrent to those involved in rhino horn trafficking.

confiscated horns

In March, Vietnam Deputy Minister Ha Cong Tuan stated they were considering destroying it’s storage of horns.


Mozambique, according to their own reports, had a notable increase in arrests and fines. They have also stated they have provided new equipment to field rangers, resettlement of villages close to the border with the Kruger National Park, established an “Intensive Protection Zone” along the length of the border with the Park, and increased cross border co-operation.

In addition they have signed the MOU (memorandum of understanding) with South Africa.

These statements beg further explanation. The villages “close to the border” are where the area known as “Poachers Alley” exists. And the protection zone- is it for protection of rhinos or poachers?

CITES is urging Mozambique to develop a national rhino horn action plan, with time-frames and milestones, and submit this to the CITES Secretariat by 8 August 2014.  According to reports, Europe and the US are ready to issue sanctions if necessary.

As the Environmental Investigation Agency has recently indicated in its petition to President Obama,  

“Available evidence indicates that Mozambican nationals constitute the highest number of foreign arrests for poaching in South Africa. Organized crime syndicates based in Mozambique are driving large-scale illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory”


Moz Minister of Tourism, Carvalho Muaria, signs the MOU with South Africa.


The CITES report does not indicate anything with China regarding rhino horn trade.

But China was allegedly, vehemently complaining about the necessity of reporting its status to CITES.  In addition for the first time, they admitted to using Tiger parts (well only some of them). A Chinese delegate said, “we don’t ban trade in tiger skins but we do ban trade in tiger bones”.

There was also no mention of Thailand or Hong Kong.

For more:  the CITES working group rhino report







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Reality of Legal Trade

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Chinese RX: Pangolin Scales

While rhinos, elephants and tigers are facing the perils of poaching and habitat destruction, there is a lesser known animal facing the same perils-the Pangolin.

tree pangolin

A tree pangolin.

Pangolins are little armoured ant-eaters. There are eight species of the solitary, burrowing mammals. It is estimated that one adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually, making them an integral role in their ecosystem: pest control.

indian pangolin

Rolling into a ball to protect themselves, Pangolin scales are tough enough to withstand hungry lions.

These unassuming creatures are poached for their scales and their blood, which the Chinese believe have healing powers. Their “meat”, particularly the fetus is also a popular delicacy. With demand from Asian countries soaring, they are the most frequently seized animal in trafficking busts. According to TRAFFIC, there were at least at least 218,100 pangolins seized between 2000 and 2012.

via CNN

via CNN

The decline in pangolin populations and the difficulty in obtaining them for poachers, has led to a ludicrous demand and price on their lives. Just as with the rhino, the phenomenal money-making potential has made this another tempting business for organized crime syndicates.

The Pangolin is nocturnal and highly secretive, making them almost impossible for scientists to study. It is unknown how long they live in the wild, or how many are even left. Sadly, they could become extinct before we even know more about them.

For more on the Pangolin see: Seven Ways to Help Save the Pangolin

**Please sign and share: Tell Disney to Help the Pangolins by featuring them in an animated movie

by: Victoria Maderna

by: Victoria Maderna


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Gaining Momentum

Throughout history, the black market of ivory and horn has ebbed and flowed. Every so often, there come windows of opportunity to put an end to it black and white amboseli elliesaltogether. Momentum is with us and that time is now.

Kenya was one of the first countries to take a stand and destroy its ivory stockpile in 1989. Since then it’s become a symbol of conservation, a declaration of war against the poaching syndicates.

The Philippines, US and Hong Kong have all destroyed their stockpiles within the last year. France, Chad and Tanzania are the most recent countries to join the bandwagon.

As the fourth most lucrative illegal crime worldwide worth $19 billion, wildlife trafficking is gaining attention.

Last week the London summit for illegal wildlife trade brought together government officials from 50 countries. The focus was on specific actions of law enforcement and reducing demand for elephants, rhinos and tigers.

“We may be at a turning point, says Mary Rice, executive director of the U.K.s Environmental Investigation Agency. “The mood in the room today is that everyone is now finally- and really -acknowledging the problem, and that we’re moving closer to support a ban on all ivory from all sources.”

Key countries including Botswana, Chad, China, Gabon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Russia and the US have agreed on actions to help eradicate the demand for wildlife products and strengthen laws. The US even announced a total  ban on commercial ivory, which is tremendous considering they were the second largest market for ivory.

With so many integral players on board, it begs the question “Where’s South Africa?”

zumaHome to 90% of the world’s remaining rhinos, South Africa’s support and committment is imperative. Yet, they were noticeably absent on the day of the conference, thus unable take part in any negotiations or to sign the London declaration.

President Zuma did briefly address poaching in his state of the nation address, saying

 “Our country continues to be the target of rhino poachers. Our law enforcement agencies are  working hard to arrest this scourge. We have also reached agreements with China, Vietnam, Kenya, Mozambique and other SADC countries to work together to stop this crime. We thank the business community and all South Africans who participate in the campaign to save the rhino.”

Yet with no action, an empty chair at the world summit, and such a pitiful conviction rate when poachers are arrested, it does not appear to be a priority to Mr. Zuma or the South African government.

“We need to fight smarter and take a proactive, targeted approach. We need the necessary resources to be provided to all relevant law enforcement agencies and our criminal justice system to equip them to combat this priority crime which threatens South Africa’s security, economy and national heritage.
We need to be explicit about the impact that loss of tourism income and jobs could have on our rural communities and we need to appreciate those putting their lives on the line to protect our national heritage.” -Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager

Much of the world is ready and willing to make this happen. But how far, how fast, and how much can this work without the enthusiasm of South Africa?


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Game Changing Day or Just a Lot of Talk?

When it comes to the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Thursday February 13th 2014 will either go down in history or will simply be forgotten in time – but which will it be?

iwt-delegates-webIt was this day in February that many of the world’s leaders and their representatives gathered in London to discuss and agree a way forward in tackling the growing crisis that is the trade in illegal wildlife.  Hosted by the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and attended by HRH the Prince of Wales, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and HRH Prince Harry,   46 different countries were represented at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, including many Heads of State, and the outcome was the signing of the ‘London Declaration’ – and comprehensive action plan that, if achieved, has a very real chance of significantly reducing a trade that is threatening a large number of species with extinction.

But why was such a gathering even needed?  The illegal wildlife crime is now the 4th largest illicit trade in the world, behind only the illegal trade in drugs, arms and human trafficking. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $10 billion and $20 billion per year.

But why should we care? The trade is threatening a large number of species with extinction, and while the conference itself focused on species of  rhino, elephant and tiger, the outcome will support all species impacted by the trade.  But it is not only this very real threat to some of our most loved wildlife.  The trade is also known to fund a number of of different terrorist groups, and with the penalties associated with the trade in illegal wildlife much less than those associated with drugs, arms and human trafficking, many criminal networks have turned their focus on the wildlife trade.

There is also a human impact resulting from the trade in illegal wildlife.  Currently an average of 2 rangers lose their lives every week while simply doing their job of trying to protect our wildlife. That is 2 families every single week that lose a husband and father, and very often lose the only member of the family bringing in a wage to help feed them and keep a roof over their heads.  The consequences are devastating!

iwt-conference-webThis gathering in London of some of the most influential people in the world is of vital importance on so many different levels.  The ‘London Declaration’ is a strongly worded action plan and focuses on the following key areas:

  • Eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products
  • Ensuring Effective Legal Frameworks and Deterrents
  • Strengthening law enforcement
  • Sustainable livelihoods and economic development

You can read the full declaration by clicking here.


iwt-reception-banner-web-smallAt Helping Rhinos, we are delighted to have been invited to the reception event  for the conference, held at London’s Natural History Museum, and to have had the opportunity to talk to many of the conference delegates about the importance of not just the creation of the London Declaration, but also the importance of ownership and accountability in the delivery of the actions.

So will Thursday February 13th 2014 be a game changing day or just a lot of words?  Only time will tell, but the signs are good and our feeling is that we will look back on this day and reflect how it did help to stop a trade threatening the survival of so many species.

To contribute to Helping Rhinos and Fight for Rhinos, please go to the Paypal link on the left. Your support is needed more than ever.

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US Closes Loophole in Horn Trafficking

Finally! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Southern White Rhino as threatened. This now places ALL rhino species under the umbrella of protection of the Endangered Species Act.

This closes a loophole that has been allowing the exploitation of international rhino horn trafficking. The move will give legal strength to prosecution of offenders.

This comes after President Obama issued an executive order aimed at combatting wildlife trafficking in July of this year. He cited a direct threat to the national security of the country, as well as health concerns (the possible emergence of infectious diseases from animal trafficking).

Operation Crash is a part of the Fish and Wildlife Service that conducts ongoing criminal investigation, addressing all aspects of U.S. involvement in the black market of rhino horn trade.


3 southern white rhino

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Kill the Trade or Kill the Rhino

white rhino ffr*93% of the existing rhinos reside in South Africa and naturally this is where the greatest poaching problem exists.

*On average 3 rhino die every day in South Africa from poaching.

According to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, poaching has cost the country a financial loss of $22 million USD just last year alone. So what is South Africa doing to combat this?

There are “stiffer” penalties in place now for confirmed rhino poachers. In S. Africa, kill a rhino and get 10 years jail time and/or a $110,000 USD fine. That is IF you get caught, and even then only IF there is substantial evidence. Considering a single rhino horn can fetch $300,000 on the Asian market, the fine seems worth the risk to a would-be poacher.

In addition SanParks (South African National Parks) is offering rewards of $10,000 USD for information which could lead to the arrest of a poacher rhino adand $100,000 if it’s information that could bust a syndicate. SanParks also introduced a reward system for informants. For reliable and steady information, meat, rations, or prepaid cell phone vouchers are given as reward. But this hasn’t seemed to help curb poaching.

De-horning hasn’t been as effective as it once may have been, offenders are hunting down the animals for even the small nub that is left. Apparently ANY horn is better than none.

The South African National Defence Force has deployed 265 soldiers to Kruger National Park. The Army is backing poacher 2up the overwhelmed park rangers in the war on poaching. According to the SA Department of Defence, this IS working. Within 3 months after their arrival, poaching incidents have dropped from 40 in March to just 2 in June.

But although there were 56 arrests in 2 months, the dockets were conveniently “lost” and the suspects were released. This only points at corruption within the justice system.

poaching arrests vs convictions

*Red: Poachers caught *Yellow: Arrests made *Green: Convictions

So the country is looking at the desperate measure of legalizing the trade of rhino horn in a one-off sale of the country’s stockpile In order to do this, approval is needed by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Floral and Fauna) to lift the 30 year ban on rhino horn trade. CITES (which is like the UN for international wildlife) needs to reach a consensus through majority vote, which will take place at the next meeting in 2016.

Reminiscent of pre-election propaganda, the battle to win public opinion is beginning. Both the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and the private rhino farmers are convinced this is the best option. Their argument is that by flooding the market with horn (which coincidentally the private owners have been storing up for years in preparation for a hopeful gold mine), it will bring down the demand.

This is at best, a flawed notion at conservation, at worst, a dangerous scheme to make the almighty dollar.


Remember the elephants:  In 1989 a similar decision was made by CITES to lift the ban on ivory trade. Did the elephants benefit? There was a marked rise in the level of poaching soon after. In the 1980s the African elephant population was 600,000. Today there are approximately 400,000. Poaching elephants for their tusks, particularly in China, is rampant and there’s no end in sight. Recently there was even a government accredited ivory trader in China convicted in part of an illegal ivory smuggling ring!

Mathematics: Let’s look at the numbers. There are approximately 1.3 billion people in China, 87 million people in Vietnam,  69 million in Thailand, and 6.2 million in Laos. Even if we assume only a sixteenth of the population uses horn,  that’s 92 million people. Yet there are only approximately 24,000 rhino left in ALL of Africa.   The thought for is that the horn is a renewable resource; it does grow back, but at a rate of 1-3 inches per year. Hardly sustainable. So a one time sale will only wet the appetite of an already insatiable Asian market.

Common sense: Trade in horn is currently part of a lucrative illegal trade connected with international criminal syndicates, so by legalizing it,  what message does it send? And does anyone really think that this will make the illegal trade magically stop? And even by doing it “only once”, it shows a willingness to sacrifice the rhino and weakness from the South African government.

Ethics: Removing the horn from the rhino is unnecessary and ineffective. The horn does NOT have medicinal value. Therefore by making this legitimate, it sends the false notion that it indeed should be a valued commodity, and that it’s acceptable to wantonly strip animals of their parts.

no to trade


Security & Prevention: The implementation of troops into Kruger National Park is making a difference. This should continue. For the areas in the country where it is not feasible to employ manpower at all given times, the controversial, yet seemingly effective method of infusing the horn with poisonous dye is an option. (See Rhino Rescue Project for more info.)

Ban Hunting: It is absurd that hunting of these animals is even allowed. It is only by permit, but considering the country can’t control poaching/hunting in the illegal form, it shouldn’t be an option until it can be better controlled.

Lay down the law: Even when the anti-poaching units fulfill their jobs, justice needs to be served. The reward for the horn needs to be met with an equally hefty punishment when caught. A slap on the wrist undermines the APUs and does absolutely nothing to deter them from doing it again. When poachers walk out of court smiling, something is very wrong.

Government: Have the WILL to enforce this. It is essential for the government, including the President to see the urgency of the rhino crisis, and truly want to make it a priority. Oversee the justice system, weed out the corrupt parties. South Africa needs to recognize their reputation, economy and crime level are seriously jeopardized. Send a clear and concise message this will not be tolerated.

International Cooperation: Maybe the most frustrating  part of the horn trade is the easily available market on cyberspace.  One of the most prevalent methods of international trafficking is through the internet.  Although cyberspace easily facilitates illegal activities, it also makes for opportunities and avenues for monitoring and responding to trade activities. This requires a different kind of policing. TRAFFIC (the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) needs to continuously work closely with the responsible parties in the justice system.

sa flagSouth Africa has its hands full. The efforts of drones, tactics, toughening penalties and employing military are commendable. But whether CITES overturns the trade ban or not,  it is imperative for the government to get serious and weed out the corruption. Without follow-through, nothing will work and ultimately our rhino will become extinct. Don’t let bureaucracy and corruption stifle conservation South Africa.

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Mixed Messages on Worldwide Wildlife Trafficking

TOP 5  Illegal Activities in the World:

2)Human Trafficking
5)Wildlife Trafficking

Finally someone has brought serious attention to the public eye on the lucrative illegal wildlife trade, the 5th biggest avenue of corruption and criminal activity in the world. Upon his visit to parts of Africa, President Obama announced his wildlife initiative plan.


Obama’s new campaign to fight wildlife trafficking includes an executive order, $10 million in funding, a task force and a presidential advisoryobama wildlife init council. The campaign will focus on helping affected countries establish and enforce better trafficking laws;, supporting regional cooperation; training their police and rangers; and beefing up their law enforcement and intelligence-gathering capacities. It will also use a new “Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program” to offer bounties for poachers and push for more modern technologies to identify and capture them.

The issue has also been presented with China in an effort to address the demand side of the trade in animal parts, primarily rhino and elephant. Both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have discussed this with them.


It means the U.S is publicly going on record to show no tolerance for the continued decimation of  animals on our planet, as well as putting emphasis on the seriousness of the criminal syndicate. Now valued between $7 billion to $10 billion a year, the lucrative trade funds many  corrupt operations i.e. drugs, human trafficking, weapons, and gang activity.

The U.S is  second only to China in partaking in the black market of wildlife trade. This admittance and commitment will step up regulations here, as well as setting the bar for the rest of the world.

The President stated “The survival of protected wildlife species … has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations. Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security.”

The Philippines Contribution

In a monumental move to battle the illegal wildlife trade, the Philippines were the first Asian country to publicly destroy it’s stockpile of ivory. On Friday it started the destruction of 5 tons of seized ivory.A road roller crushes smuggled elephant tusks at the Parks and Wildlife center in Quezon City

Ramon Paje, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said “The Philippines will not be a party to the massacre and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing,”

Although on the surface, they are sending a strong message, according to DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, there are still 8 tons unaccounted for. There is currently an investigation to determine its whereabouts.

What about South Africa?

Shortly after Obama’s’ visit, South Africa announced plans for a one-time selling of its stockpile of ivory. Ironic this should come on the heels of the President’s visit. The debate on legal horn trade rages on, but the timing of this decision seems to undermine the seriousness and conviction of the statement from the U.S.

With the U.S. and even the Philippines stepping up,  it seems momentum is on the side of wildlife. So why wouldn’t S.A. simply destroy theirs as well?

History has proven legal trade does NOT work. In 2008 the ban was lifted on ivory, which opened the flood gates and escalated elephant poaching , which they are still being massacred for.  Repeating this for the rhino would be the same disaster.

no to trade

Please let your voice be heard.  South Africa’s move toward petitioning CITES to legalize the rhino horn trade will decimate the species..    

Please write! #-SayNoToRhinoHornTrade

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