2 minute read
5 Jun 2014
1:27 pm

Kenya makes huge ivory seizure

Kenya's embattled wildlife service announced Thursday the discovery and seizure in the port city of Mombasa of a huge haul of ivory from at least 114 poached elephants.

Elephant Family. Image courtesy: Stock.xchng

The find of 228 tusks and 74 ivory pieces is thought to be biggest of its kind so far this year, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said.

“It’s the first seizure of this magnitude since the beginning of this year in Mombasa,” KWS spokesman Paul Muya told AFP, adding that one suspect was arrested during a joint KWS and police swoop on a Mombasa warehouse.

The spokesman said authorities were still in the process of weighing the ivory, and could not say if it came from elephants in Kenya or elsewhere on the continent.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the primary gateway for ivory smuggled to Asia.

Ivory is sought out for jewellery and decorative objects. Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.

Rhinos are also being killed for their horns, which is used in traditional medicine in some Asian countries.

A sharp rise in poaching in Kenya, which is home to an estimated 30,000 elephants and 1,040 rhinos, has sparked warnings from conservation groups that the state-run KWS is losing the fight against the slaughter.

In April five senior KWS officials were suspended as part of a probe into allegations of mismanagement. Officials signalled that the purge was sparked by the fact that sophisticated anti-poaching equipment promised to poorly-equipped park rangers had not been deployed despite having been paid for.

Authorities have also been accused of allowing known poaching ringleaders to act with impunity.

A kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (650 euros) in Asia, with UNODC suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million (23 million euros) in 2011.

But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which in Kenya and Tanzania is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.