Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I. P. A. Manning
21 November 2006

Elephant continue to be poached for their ivory and meat in Zambia: last week in the West Petauke Game Management Area of the Luangwa Valley, close to my camp on the Luangwa river, a cow herd was all but obliterated by a poaching gang.

The meat from these elephant, from hippo and our now decimated herds of buffalo, is carried to the villages of Rufunsa and Lukwipa on the Great East Road, which links Malawi with the capital, Lusaka, and sold openly to motorists; the ivory, we now know, follows the traditional route through Malawi and on to Singapore or to Manila, Hong Kong, Taiwan and eventually, Japan and China.

In 2002, a consignment of 5.9 metric tons of ivory was intercepted in Singapore and traced to a shipper in Lilongwe, Malawi. Shortly before this seizure, at the CITES meeting in Santiago, Zambia had requested that elephant be downgraded to Appendix one, and that they be allowed to sell their ivory stockpile, both requests denied as a result of a fact finding mission which found that in excess of 800 elephant a year were being killed illegally – an unsustainable offtake; Zambia later burnt the ivory on payment of $200,000 from elephant protectionist organizations.

In April 2005, the Environmental Investigation Agency (UK) held an International Ivory Enforcement Training Workshop in Lusaka funded by DFID. A presentation on the Singapore ivory seizure was made, which included details of the DNA investigations of the ivory and soil isotope analysis suggesting that the elephant came from two savannah populations. But they needed to be matched with samples from Luangwa and elsewhere. This has now been done.

As reported in a National Geographic newsletter, Sam Wasser and his team at the University of Washington sequenced DNA recovered from nearly 500 samples of dung collected from elephant in 23 African countries and then matched it with DNA from the seized ivory. When Wasser's team compared 75 samples from the illegal shipment to their genetic map, they found that all of the ivory came from Zambia. And as the bulk of Zambia’s remaining elephant are to be found in the Luangwa and its associated rift valley systems this does suggest the ivory’s source.

And what of the prosecution of those responsible? Apparently a Malawian national was being held some months ago, a Chinese national skipped the country and the Singaporean transshipment agent received a fine of $3 000.

However, at this same presentation, an astounding comment was made by one of the participants, Samuel Ngosi, of the Malawian Anti-Corruption Bureau, who revealed, possibly for the first time, that his investigations had uncovered the fact that a total of 19 shipments had been made between 1994 and 2002 by the same people in Lilongwe, using the same methods and freight carriers – a total of 123.5 tons of ivory being shipped (which I had mis-reported elsewhere as 23.5 tons!), much of it small worked pieces. The value of this is in the order of US $185 million.

Extrapolating from the CITES report on Zambia, which found that the average ivory in the strong room was 4.23 kg; this would mean that 14, 598 elephant were poached in the Luangwa over a nine year period, equivalent to what is considered to be the approximate current population of between 10, 000 and 14, 000 animals – a conclusion reached from aerial census work carried out in 1998, 1999 and 2002. No count has since been conducted. Thus if the population estimates are correct, some 11% of the population would have been taken off illegally each year over a nine year period, which when added to natural mortality, is clearly unsustainable, suggesting that the population census work either undercounted or that our elephant numbers are now very low.

And what is the position of the Zambia Wildlife Authority, a statutory body responsible for wildlife conservation and our 19 National Parks?

In April 2004 ZAWA announced that they were applying to CITES to downgrade elephant from Appendix 1 to Appendix 2 in order to ‘control 20 animals’ considered to be crop raiders. In May 2005, ZAWA applied for a voluntary elephant quota of 40 tusks at a CITES Standing Committee meeting and then went ahead and issued elephant hunting licenses for the 2005 hunting season. On 10 January, 2006, the Natural Resources Consultative Forum (NRCF), a cross-sectoral forum for environment, whose membership includes the hunting industry, resolved that no elephant sport hunting should be conducted in Zambia in 2006 until such time as the necessary scientific information was to hand. The minutes were widely circulated. An advisory note and the minutes of the meeting were sent by the NRCF to the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, followed by a meeting between the NRCF Chairman and the Minister. No reply to the advisory note has to this day been received. On 11 April 2006 at the Zambia Wildlife Authority offices, an auction for 20 elephant for sport hunting was held and the licenses purchased by one bidder. These 20 elephant, according to the then Director-General of ZAWA, one Habinga Kabeta – former Managing Director of the Kapiri Mposhi Glass Factory, in a statement to the Office of the Vice-President’s Disaster Management Unit, were elephant which had been identified as crop raiding bulls. A number of icon bulls, of inestimable value to the tourist industry, have since been shot, and the poaching of elephant continues without let or hindrance for in January, 2006, Philippine Customs Officials seized six tons of ivory in Manila, believed to have come from Zambia. In June, ZAWA officials set off for Manila, only to find on arrival that the consignment had been stolen.

At the 54th Standing Committee meeting of CITES in Geneva in October of 2006, it was decided that Japan will be the designated buyer – pending certain conditions, of the proposed one-off sale of ivory stocks from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. A decision on designating China as well has been put off to a later date. Thus it appears, that despite Japan being a major buyer of illegal ivory, legal ivory will now find its way there. And how will we now tell the difference?

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