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2011 was record year for elephant poaching

More ivory tusks were confiscated in 2011 than during any other year since 1989, which was when the buying and selling of ivory was outlawed, reports the international wildlife trade NGO Traffic.

The group announced that elephants experienced a “horrible year”, in 2011, with about 23 tonnes of elephant tusks seized. This figure represents at least 2,500 poached animals.

In 1989, the trade of elephant tusks was banned in order to save the animals from going extinction. But the industry has continued illicitly due to the great demand in Asia, where ivory is adored as decorative objects.

The enormous ivory quantities seized in 2011 show both an escalating demand in Asia and also the rising sophistication behind the criminal groups responsible for the trafficking, according to Traffic, which monitors the buying and selling of wildlife objects.

Most clandestine shipments of elephant tusks from Africa end up in either Thailand or China. The group reported at least 13 massive seizures of elephant tusks this year, which amounted to over 23 tonnes – in contrast to six seizures in 2010 of less than ten tonnes.

Tom Milliken, who is an elephant expert for Traffic, called this the worst year ever in his 23 years of documenting ivory seizures. He added that 2011 was truly a terrible year for elephants.

The wildlife NGO suggested that smugglers may have switched from using air to sea portals. In early 2011, several ivory seizures occurred at airports but later during the year most were coniscated in sea freight.

The group added that the only common factor in the trade was that the tusks depart Africa and end up in Asia. However, the routes seem to be constantly shifting, likely reflecting the locations where smugglers gamble as their best opportunity of avoiding detection.

Malaysia was a major transit country in 2011 for the supply chain, according to Traffic. The most recent case happened on 21 December, when Malaysian authorities confiscated hundreds of African ivory objects worth about £844,000. The elephant tusks were being transported to Cambodia. The objects were concealed in boxes of handicrafts transported from Kenya’s Mombasa port, according to Traffic.

Mr Milliken stated that, despite the seizures, very few arrests actually occurred. He expressed his fears that those criminally responsible were “winning”. Many wildlife campaigners consider the decision to permit some southern African nations, whose elephant populations are thriving, to sell their stocks of ivory, has given fuel to the illegal trade.

However, these countries – Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia- deny the accusations, arguing they should be commended for taking care of their elephant populations.





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