Cites links ivory trade with organised crime

10 million tonnes of horn 'missing' from stockpile

More resources are needed to stem the flow of the illegal African ivory trade, the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (Cites) says.

A visitor stops in front of a crocodile photo in an exhibition at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre yesterday. The centre is the venue for the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) which runs until March 14. Thailand has proposed the conference allow the regulated trade of Siamese and saltwater crocodiles. SOMCHAI POOMLARD

A large amount of confiscated African ivory disappears every year and the culprits are likely to be linked to organised crime, Cites said.

Cites said cross-checks and transparency are required to monitor stockpiled African ivory that has been confiscated by authorities in Africa and Asia.

Julian Blanc, coordinator of Cites' Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants programme (Mike), said about 10 million tonnes of confiscated African ivory have disappeared from stockpiles under state agencies in Africa and Asia.

It is believed the number will climb higher if there are no effective measures put in place to control the stocks.

"We do need to have an effective mechanism to report on the existing amount of confiscated African ivory through a well-managed database, which can be widely inspected by the members. We want to know who has the ivory and where it is," Mr Blanc said. He said the number of slain elephants in Africa was estimated at 17,000 in 2011, which is 7.5% of the continent's elephant population.

The increasing number of killed elephants was due to the strong ivory demand in China _ the world's largest African ivory consumers _ in line with the country's strong economic growth.

Mr Blanc was speaking to reporters to unveil a report titled Elephants in the Dust _ The African Elephant Crisis produced by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), Cites, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic).

According to the report, the number of large-scale seizures of ivory (more than 800 kilogrammes) destined for Asia has more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.

Illegal ivory trade activity has more than doubled since 2007 and is now over three times larger than it was in 1998.

The report also said that highly-organised criminal networks operate with relative impunity to move large shipments of ivory off the continent and to markets in Asia as a result of weak governance and collusive corruption at all levels.

Intelligence information suggested that fishing vessels moving between Asia and Africa may be involved in ivory smuggling and they are rarely inspected.

Tom Milliken, Traffic's global elephant and rhino programme leader, said China and Thailand are two main countries with large scale ivory trade.

Thailand and China are among eight countries facing trade sanctions as a result of poor performance on ivory trade control. A Cites committee will make a decision next week on whether to impose the ban.

The other six countries are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Benjanse Van Rensburge, chief of Cites' Enforcement, said reliable techniques on wildlife trade tracking and forensic methods were needed to combat organised wildlife crimes, together with stronger punishment.

Financial institutions should also work together with other authorities to prevent wildlife criminals from laundering money from the wildlife trade.

Meanwhile, Thai delegates from the Department of Fisheries attempted to convince Cites members to support the country's proposal to shift farm-breeding freshwater and seawater crocodiles from Appendix I to Appendix II to help the crocodile-breeding industry.

Wimol Jantrarotai, Fisheries Department chief, said the proposal would enable Thailand to continue with the crocodile breeding business and increase the reptile population in the wild.

Heng Sovannara, Cambodia's Fisheries Department deputy director, expressed support for the Thai proposal saying the shifting of crocodiles from Appendix I to Appendix II would benefit people who breed crocodile for commercial purposes.

Cites members are expected to vote on the issue tomorrow.

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Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin & Patsara Jikkham