Wesbank

Spies deep in illegal ivory trade 

SHARE   |   Monday, 22 May 2017   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Spies deep in illegal ivory trade 

The continued fight between state security agencies is said to be sparked by their efforts to control the lucrative illicit ivory trade, inside sources have revealed. The fight has pitted Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Department of Wildlife and National Parks over controlling anti-poaching. Last year, Botswana shocked its SADC counterparts at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in South Africa when they chose to support the proposal to end trade in elephant ivory for good. According to the Great Elephants Census (GEC) the population of elephants in Botswana is now 130,451. Most environmental watchers were stunned by Botswana’s decision to pull out of an agreement to open trade ivory. While some supported Botswana’s stand others have accused the country of taking a move that is tantamount to supporting the black market since with less supply it meant that the price of ivory remained high.

Black market 

“Should they have allowed the opening of the market on ivory trade that was going to affect the prices on the black market as currently they are very lucrative,” said the source. A single male elephant's two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds, with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $3000 on the black market. Should the market be open this could significantly reduce the price of ivory on black market but intelligence sources have revealed it is the black market that has been sustaining the covert operations. This is said to be one of the reasons that has caused tension between DISS and TISS and the latter feel that the former are now reckless in their operations. At the bottom of the poaching networks are alleged to be members of the disciplined forces who have established connections with powerful poaching syndicates both locally and intentionally. “Security agents are deep into the illicit ivory trade and help some of the poachers to evade other security agents involved in poaching by giving them intelligence information on operations,” said a source, who is deeply involved in anti-poaching. Most of the syndicates are said to be using mostly Zambians and Namibians to kill the elephants. To evade being caught, the ivory will be escorted by the security agents thus enabling them to pass through road blocks where there is stop and search. If caught, officers are transferred to new posts rather than being prosecuted.

How they carry out the operations?

According to former army officer, who was involved in the illicit ivory trade, poachers will kill a calf and once it fell down, the adults gather protectively around it. “The poachers will then shoot the elephants while still looking at the dead calf and their trunks cut off using machetes,” he said. The state security agents, who are involved into anti-poaching, will then move in and take the trunks in their official cars. He said that after seeing the backroom military deals on poaching he decided to quit. “You don’t always know where you stand and which interests you are really serving,” he said. Most if not all the ivory will be confiscated and transported through Zambia to Tanzania where it will be shipped to Asia.

EIA 2014 Report  

According to Environmental Intelligence Agency (EIA) report, Botswana has no centralised database recording prosecutions and court cases relating to wildlife crime. The report also indicates that there is a challenge of cooperation between DWNP and prosecutors when dealing with cases of poaching. “In 2012, 26 tusks were stolen from Government stores in Kasane and in 2015 three rhino horns were reported to have been stolen from a Government store in Maun,” reads the EIA report. Some security agents are alleged to have broken into a wildlife storeroom in Maun and stolen three rhino horns valued at P3 million. Surprisingly, the Government store in Kasane is one of the most secure being under a 24-hour protection from armed officers. It is a big mystery that rhino tusks were stolen and no one has been apprehended. According to the report, the escalation of elephant poaching and the increase of large scale ivory shipments indicate the involvement of organised criminal syndicates in the burgeoning illicit ivory trade, abetted by corruption at key stages in the smuggling chain

University of Princeton backs Botswana 

According to the researchers report in a working paper published on June 13 by the National Bureau of Economic Research at the University of Princeton the position taken by Botswana is a good one as opening the market has proven not to be a solution. They have found that the effects of the legal ivory sale actually expanded the black market for ivory and led to more elephant poaching in Africa. After the 2008 sale, observers reported that people’s demand for ivory surged once it was legally available and had greater public visibility. They observed that since the announcement for the legal sale, illegal ivory has increased by about 66% while seizures of ivory being smuggled out of Africa increased by approximately 71%. “At the same time, the presence of legal ivory in the market made it easier to conceal illegal ivory from the authorities — a phenomenon known as “masquerading,” reads the paper. They argue that while the prices might drop, the customer base will likely increase as a once-stigmatized product becomes legally and socially acceptable.

China outlaws ivory sale 

Early this year China which is the biggest market for ivory announced that it will ban the sale and trade of ivory by the end of 2017. It is estimated that seven out of every 10 pieces of ivory in the world ends up for sale there and since the announcement the price had dropped to $730 per kilogram from $2,100 in 2014. Some argue that this is not the solution but it will drive a much-maligned business further onto the black market. Efforts to get comment from the Minister of Environment, Natural resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama were futile.