Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Leopard skins, nearly 2 tons of ivory seized in eastern Africa

Nearly 2 tons of ivory seized in eastern Africa

By TOM MALITI - Associated Press Writer
Monday, Nov. 30, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya -- African authorities raided shops, intercepted vehicles at checkpoints and used sniffer dogs to detect and seize over 3,800 pounds (1,768 kilograms) of illegal elephant ivory in a six-nation operation, Interpol and the Kenya Wildlife Service said Monday.

During the three-month-long operation, authorities also seized leopard, crocodile and snake skins, among other illegal animal products, said Awad Dahia, Interpol's eastern Africa chief.

Dahia told journalists that the operation was coordinated by the international police organization and involved the wildlife authorities, police and customs departments of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Kenya Wildlife Service said it had arrested 65 people - three Chinese, three Tanzanians and 59 Kenyans - during the operation.

Patrick Omondi, the Kenya Wildlife Service's head of species conservation and management, said the operation highlights a rise in poaching in Kenya over the past two years. More than 216 elephants have been killed so far this year, compared to 47 in 2007, he said.

"We have seen an increase in poaching since 2007," Omondi said. "One of the factors we link this to, is the experiment on partial lifting of (the ban on) international trade in ivory in 2007 to allow Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to sell 108 tons last year."

Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were granted a one-time exemption in 2007 from a global ivory ban because of their thriving elephant herds. They sold their ivory stockpiles in November 2008.

Part of the 3,898 pounds (1,768 kilograms) haul of elephant ivory confiscated during the three-month investigation was announced two months ago.

In September, Kenyan and Ethiopian officials confiscated more than 2,600 pounds (1,200 kilograms) at their main international airports. Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said that seizure was part of the same mission, code-named Operation Costa, after a Tanzanian wildlife official.

Dahia said Monday that Kenyan officials had seized 1,252 pounds (568 kilograms) of ivory, but he did not say when the seizure took place.

Officials say the amount of ivory confiscated during the six-nation operation could be higher because other countries still have to report their hauls.

Bonventure Ebayi, a senior regional wildlife conservation official, said Ethiopian officials had raided shops in the capital, Addis Ababa, and seized carved illegal ivory but they are still computing the total captured.

Ebayi, the head of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, a regional body that coordinates the enforcement work of African wildlife authorities, said other countries involved in the investigation are also still compiling the list of illegal animal products seized.

The elephant populations of many African countries were being decimated until a global ban on the ivory trade was implemented in 1989. Since then the elephant population of Kenya, for example, has grown to 35,000 this year, from 16,000 in 1989. The increased number is still lower than the estimated 167,000 elephants that roamed Kenya in 1973.

http://www.sunherald.com/world/story/1775809.html

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