Kenya set to torch 5 tonnes of ivory stockpile

08:31, July 20, 2011      

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by Ronald Njoroge and Daniel Ooko

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki will on Wednesday burn nearly five tonnes of ivory poached in eastern and southern Africa and stockpiled for nearly a decade.

The bulk of the contraband ivory being burned on Wednesday was seized in Singapore in June 2002 and was found to have originated mainly from Malawi and Zambia. It was exported from Lilongwe in Malawi.

Lusaka Agreement Task Force and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials on Tuesday started piling up ivory weighing about 5 tonnes in readiness for historic burning on Wednesday.

An elaborate pile of the elephant tusks with kerosene jets and a grill to hasten the process of burning is being prepared at the site in Tsavo West National Park.

The burning as the mode of disposal and the site of Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training School was made by the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council.

Kenya is hosting the event as a party to the regional agreement on wildlife conservation.

The setting ablaze of contraband ivory is the first regional exercise of this kind and the third in Africa after Kenya's in 1989 and Zambia in 1992.

The burning of ivory is the climax of the first-ever African Elephant Law Enforcement Day celebrations on the theme "Fostering cooperation to combat elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in Africa."

Bonaventure Ebayi, the director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, said the burning of the ivory follows an agreement reached by the three countries in May in Nairobi. "Investigations revealed that the ivory could have originated from savanna elephant populations in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia," he said.

Having concluded the investigations, the Lusaka Agreement governing council resolved that the disposal of the ivory be undertaken in accordance with the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations.

CITES regulations don't allow commercial trade in illegally acquired ivory or any other seized wildlife contraband specimens but provide for its use for scientific, educational and law enforcement purposes. It also allows the destruction of such ivory since it has no commercial value.

Ebayi said a regional platform for fighting wildlife crime was important since criminals collaborate across national borders.

The task force is charged with implementing the 1992 Lusaka Agreement designed to help African law enforcement agencies tackle wildlife smuggling.

The Wednesday's burning will be the second in Kenya, which in 1989 torched 12 tonnes of ivory. Zambia also burnt smuggled tusks in 1992. Ebayi said the measure was no different from the destruction of any other contraband.

Africa is home to 472,269 elephants whose survival is threatened by poaching and illegal trade. The day has been set aside to recognize the plight of the endangered African elephant and to celebrate its importance and appreciate challenges faced in its conservation.

The celebrations focus on demonstrating solidarity with wildlife law enforcers as they strive to curtail elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade as well as other wildlife products.

Other activities to be held earlier in the week as part of the celebrations included the launch of the African Elephant Law Enforcement Special Account (AELESA), African Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) and African Wildlife Law Enforcement Award.

The Lusaka Agreement is an inter-governmental Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora which has established a permanent body known as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a Nairobi-based collaborative agency for fighting wildlife crime.

A week ago, African diplomats based in Nairobi were asked to facilitate the enlisting of their countries to the Lusaka Agreement that brings together countries fighting illegal wildlife trade.

Earlier this week, Ebayi told the diplomats that issues such as jurisdiction restrictions hampered efforts aimed at combating cross-border /transnational environmental crime.

He noted such restrictions make crimes offer high profits and minimal risk to criminal networks. "In the current era of global free trade, the ease of communication and movement of goods and money facilitate the operations of groups involved in environmental crime," he said.

He noted that economies in much of African countries depend largely on the use of natural resources. "Despite the major contributions of ecosystem services to national and regional economies, the ecosystems continue to experience significant threats of environmental crimes that transcend national boundaries, " he said.

Out of Africa's 54 nations, only seven including Congo (Brazzaville), Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia have fully enlisted while Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland have signed the treaty but are yet to ratify it.

The Lusaka Agreement which is deposited with the General Secretariat of the United Nations is open for accession by all African states.

Environmental crimes have been found to be linked other serious and organized crime, especially document fraud, corruption, possession and use of illegal weapons and money laundering.

A regional platform for fighting wildlife crime is important since criminals collaborate across national borders.

Challenges facing elephant conservation in Africa included habitat loss and fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching for meat and ivory, negative localized impacts of elephants on their habitats and shortage of financial resources.

The relative importance of each challenge varies considerably across countries and regions. For instance, the elephant populations in southern Africa are stable or on increase while those in most western Africa countries have been depleted, and are seriously threatened in Eastern and central African countries.

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