A new report finds that West and Central Africa have emerged as major sourcing and export hubs for the illegal trafficking of elephant ivory and pangolin scales to Asia.
Since 2015, Nigeria has emerged as the world’s primary exit point for ivory and pangolin scales trafficked from Africa to Asia. During the past five years, it has been implicated in global seizures of more than 30 tons of ivory and 167 tons of pangolin scales – the equivalent of at least 4,400 elephants and many hundreds of thousands of pangolins.
At a time when the world is grappling with the crippling impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, such high-volume of trade in wildlife poses a serious risk for the spread of zoonotic diseases – those arising from animals – such as COVID-19.
Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), and Nigeria are affected by some of the highest levels of organized crime on the African continent; all three have well-established criminal networks involved in trafficking wildlife, humans, drugs, minerals, timber, and weapons.
“Given the challenges of crime and corruption in several parts of West and Central Africa, we need to act now before elephants, pangolins, and other wildlife disappear forever from this part of the world,” said Shruti Suresh, EIA Senior Wildlife Campaigner, in a statement. “West and Central Africa’s porous borders make the region exceptionally vulnerable to wildlife trafficking networks, but there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackle the problem.”
“As a matter of urgency, governments in the region need to address corruption, the lack of political will to tackle wildlife crime, poor law enforcement – particularly at porous borders and entry/exit ports – as well as the role of foreign nationals involved in wildlife crime operating in this region,” continued Suresh.
Key transportation companies identified as carriers for wildlife contraband include Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, and Pacific International Lines. Identified airlines include Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Emirates Airlines, making it clear that strong collaboration between public and private sectors is essential to turn the tide against wildlife crime.
As well as documenting the huge volumes of ivory and pangolin scales smuggled from Africa to Asia, Out of Africa identifies Nigeria as a country of significant concern and lays bare the complex structure of wildlife trafficking and the roles played by rogue clearing agents, freight forwarders, and other key players who enable industrial scale trafficking of ivory and pangolin scales from Africa.
Poachers and suppliers in primary source countries – including: Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Liberia – secure ivory and pangolin scales before transport agents arrange for shipment to Nigeria.
Once in Nigeria, traders work closely with shipping agents to clear shipments for export through major hubs, including Apapa seaport and Lagos airport, often choosing to use trans-shipment locations such as Malaysia and Singapore to ‘break the route’ and circumvent detection.
Repacking and switching Bills of Lading may take place through clearing agents during transit before onward transportation to Vietnam and China via air, sea, or land routes.
Fraudulent shipping paperwork is used to conceal what is actually being transported; pangolin scales and ivory have been exported under the guise of frozen beef, auto parts, seeds, cashew nuts, and ginger, while ivory has been smuggled within shipments of wood and even concealed inside hollowed-out timber.
On arrival in Asia, agents clear shipments to forward to the importers, who then sell the goods on to processors and/or end consumers.
All along the trafficking routes, corrupt officials at air and seaports play a key role, taking bribes to turn a blind eye and ensure the ‘smooth’ passage of contraband across borders.
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In a precedent-setting legal development, Mexican authorities have arrested six suspected totoaba traffickers under charges of Organized Crime and Crimes Against the Environment.
A press release issued by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office states that the arrests were made during a series of coordinated raids on November 11, carried out to enforce warrants issued earlier in the year.
The six individuals arrested are suspected members of a transnational criminal organization involved in the trafficking of totoaba swim bladders. The court has granted authorities two months to continue the investigation, during which time the suspects will remain in jail.
This case marks the first time these charges, which carry a possible prison sentence, have been applied in Mexico.
The totoaba is a large species of sea bass endemic to the waters of Mexico and protected under international law. Poachers catch totoabas for their swim bladders, which are often referred to as “the cocaine of the sea” due to the high price they demand on the Chinese black market.
Totoaba poaching is the primary cause of the decline of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise, the world’s most endangered marine mammal, which exists only in a small region in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California.
There are sadly fewer than 20 vaquitas remaining in the wild.
The gillnets poachers use to catch totoabas often span several hundred feet in length and form invisible barriers under the sea. Vaquitas, which are approximately the same size as totoabas, become entangled in the deadly illegal nets and drown. Whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles also fall victim to these illegal nets.
Sea Shepherd has been working with Mexican authorities to deter poaching and remove the illegal gillnets that threaten the survival of the vaquita since 2015.
To-date, Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro (Spanish for “miracle”), has removed over 1,200 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Vaquita Refuge, a UNESCO-recognized and federally-protected area in which gillnet fishing is banned.
“Sea Shepherd applauds the vision and leadership of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and other authorities for investigating and prosecuting the environmental crime of smuggling totoaba bladders as transnational organized crime,” said Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd’s Director of Campaigns, in a statement. “While Sea Shepherd ships and crew work to confiscate illegal gillnets at sea, Mexican prosecutors are using every tool in the legal toolbox to successfully net suspected poaching ringleaders on land.”
The post Six Trafficking Arrests Made In Mexico For The Illegal Poaching Of Protected Totoaba; The Main Reason For The Decline Of The Critically Endangered Vaquita Porpoise appeared first on World Animal News.
After years of investigations and collecting evidence, nine members of one of Southern Africa’s most prolific wildlife trafficking gangs were sentenced by a Malawi court to a total of 56.5 years in prison.
The convicted were members of the Lin-Zhang syndicate and each was found guilty of at least one wildlife trafficking offense of a listed or protected species including: pangolins, rhino horn, ivory, and hippo teeth.
Among them was Mrs. Quinhua Zhang, who was convicted of possession of rhino horn and an illegal firearm following her arrest at a raid in May 2019.
Zhang is the wife of Yunhua Lin, the alleged kingpin of the syndicate, who was arrested in August of 2019 following a three-month manhunt. Lin, reportedly, was also recently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for the possession of rhino horn, conspiracy, and money-laundering.
“Following years of concerted efforts and overcoming countless obstacles, this small nation has demonstrated how, with political will and determination, to dismantle one of Africa’s most prolific organized international crime syndicates,” Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said in a statement.
The Lin-Zhang syndicate has been operating in Malawi for more than a decade.
“Fighting crime on this scale demands sophistication, collaboration, courage, and tenacity,” continued Rice. “Malawi should be immensely proud, and other African countries currently battling the scourge of illegal wildlife trade would do well to follow this example of global leadership.”
“It is critical that wildlife criminals can expect to feel the full weight of the law and the message needs to be loud and clear: Malawi is no longer a playground for the likes of the Lin-Zhang syndicate that exploit our natural heritage, damage our economy, incite corruption, and pose a risk to national security,” stated Kumchedwa. This is indeed a victory for the Malawi, and a victory for wildlife in particular.”
The sentences handed down yesterday at the Senior Resident Magistrate’s Court, in Lilongwe, were:
Quinhua Zhang – A total of 11 years in prison (seven years for possession of rhino horn and four years for an illegal firearm, to be served consecutively);
Li Hao Yuan – A total of 11 years in prison (seven years possession of rhino horn and four years for an illegal firearm, to be served consecutively, plus 1.5 years for possession of pangolin scales, served concurrently);
Yanwu Zhuo – A total of seven years in prison (possession of rhino horn);
Ya Shen Zhuo – A total of seven years in prison (possession of rhino horn);
Jinfu Zeng – A total of eight years in prison (five years for possession of pangolin scales and three years for possession of worked ivory, to be served concurrently);
Guozhong Zhang – A total of three years in prison (two years for possession of pangolin scales and three years for possession of worked ivory, to be served concurrently);
Guohua Zhang – A total of three years in prison (possession of worked ivory);
Cosmas Sakugwa – A total of 1.5 years in prison (possession of worked ivory);
Steven Daza – A total of 1.5 years in prison (possession of hippo teeth).
In total, 14 members of the syndicate were apprehended last year. Of the remaining syndicate members arrested in May of 2019, one Chinese and two Malawian nationals, Cheng Qiang, James Mkwezalamba, and Julius Sanudia, have each been sentenced to three years in prison for possession of live pangolins or pangolin scales.
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