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The illegal trade in ivory has tripled over the past 15 years, trafficked primarily by “Asian-run, African-based” criminal networks, a UN agency said on Wednesday.
The UN Environmental Programme used the amount of ivory seized to determine that the illicit trade had doubled since 2007 and tripled since 1998 in its latest report on African elephant poaching.
The statistics were released as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was being held in Bangkok. The convention estimated that about 25 000 African elephants were slain in 2011, with a similar death toll in 2012, fuelled primarily by growing demand for trinkets and tusks in increasingly affluent Asia.
The size of the seizures at Asian ports, some of which involved hundreds of tusks, points to the involvement of highly organised, well-financed criminal networks, the UN agency said.
“These largely Asian-run, African-based criminal networks operate with relative impunity as there is almost no evidence of successful arrests, prosecutions or convictions,” it said.
Outside experts agreed. “organised criminal networks are cashing in on the elephant-poaching crisis, trafficking ivory in unprecedented volumes and operating with relative impunity and with little fear of prosecution,” said Tom Milliken, an ivory expert with the wildlife-trade-monitoring group TRAFFIC.
Steve Galster, executive director of FREELAND, an Asia-based anti-trafficking organisation, blamed the growth in the ivory trade and other illicit trafficking in wildlife in part on the convention, which provides many exemptions and loopholes for the trade in threatened species.
“This thing has never had any teeth,” said
“As long as a rhino horn can get across borders with a certificate, organised crime is going to find a way to commercialise it and the poaching is going to keep going,” Galster said. - Sapa-dpa