from Africa in Transition

Tracking the Traffickers: Stopping the Wildlife Trade at its Source

December 30, 2014

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This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.

On December 8, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, announced the creation of the United for Wildlife Task Force at the World Bank in Washington, DC (you can see the full speech below). The task force aims to work with the private sector to reduce illegal wildlife trafficking globally, it hopes to “identify ways that the sector can break the chain between suppliers and consumers.”

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The vast majority of consumers of African wildlife products, like ivory and rhino horn, are based outside of the continent. As such, it is likely that the task force’s goal of tightening restrictions on the supply chain could put an end to the illicit trade.

A recent report, Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Ivory, released by Washington-based nonprofits Born Free USA and C4ADS, may help assess how achievable the task force’s objective is. The report sheds light on the two main flows of the illicit international ivory trade: seaborne and airborne. By disrupting trafficking at major hubs specified in the report, it may be possible to achieve the task force’s goal and break the chain between suppliers and consumers of African wildlife products.

According to the report the airborne flow of ivory accounts for the majority of ivory seizures and in turn trafficking incidents. However, most of the airborne flow is conducted on a relatively small scale. Typically, seizures involve small, finished pieces and weigh less than 10kg (22 lbs). Most airborne ivory flows through four airports in Africa: Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport, South Africa’s OR Tambo International airport, and Angola’s Quatro de Feveiro Airport. All of these airports have direct flights to Asia, the largest consumer of ivory. Ivory not transported through these African hubs often flies through two other international airports on their way to China: France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai International Airport. The task force could help improve the screening of material transported through these airports. With better screening, airports could prevent these products from crossing national borders and interdict much of the international trade in wildlife.

The report also documents the size and scale of the seaborne flow. Between January 2009 and December 2013, 72 percent of seized ivory by weight was seaborne. There are three major seaborne points for the international transport of ivory: the port of Mombasa in Kenya, the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and the port of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. (The Biera and Pemba ports in Mozambique are the largest hubs for rhino horn and could serve as hubs for ivory transport as elephant poaching increases in southern Africa.) It is estimated that all seaborne ivory is transported in less than 200 cargo containers a year, each container carrying an estimated one to two tons of ivory. Until 2013 most ivory seizures were made in east Asia. Historically, traffickers have counted on African ports being porous. Enforcing stricter screening procedures at African ports could stem the tide of the illicit ivory and rhino horn trade at the source.

The Out of Africa report shows that the illicit trade nests itself within licit patterns of trade. Traffickers have not developed separate trade routes. Instead, the report suggests that traffickers have primarily made use of Africa’s busiest trade networks. Based on this information, it would appear that by working with the transport industry, airlines to shipping lines, and improving the inspection process in African trade hubs Prince William’s task force has the opportunity to strike a significant blow to the illegal wildlife trade.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Civil Society

Kenya

Corruption

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