Wildlife authorities grapple to contain jumbo-sized problem
Help is at hand in the deadly game of saving elephants and other threatened species
- Published: 8/11/2010 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: News
Wildlife authorities are playing a "cat and mouse" game with criminals who kill elephants, wrench the tusks bloodily from their heads, then sell the ivory on the black market _ usually in Thailand.
They say they are trying better ways to deal with what they term "wildlife crimes" _ which involve big cats, pangolins and ivory.
Authorities said they are "playing a game with wildlife smugglers" which now is a transnational, well-planned, organised network. Criminals are changing tactics to avoid crackdowns.
One of the top concerns for Thailand is the illicit ivory trade. Thai craftsmanship is regarded as among the world's finest.
Thai authorities from police to customs agencies are in talks for the first time with officers from the Nairobi-based Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) in Bangkok to map out better planning and closer cooperation to try to stop the flow of raw tusks from East African countries to the kingdom.
The illegal ivory trade is complicated. In many cases, elephants are killed in Africa and the raw ivory culled from the slaughter is sent to Thailand for carving.
The finished products are exported to international customers, said Onkuri Majumdar, a senior programme officer with the Foundation for Human Rights and Wildlife (Freeland), which co-organised the workshop for Thai and African authorities with the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network.
The main centre for carving in Thailand is in Nakhon Sawan's Phayuha Khiri district, Freeland and the police Natural Resources and Environment Crime Division, said. Raw tusks are shipped into Thailand through many means, from containers with false customs declarations to carry-on and checked-in luggage, Ms Majumdar said.
The smugglers' routes change frequently to avoid detection. The best-known route now is to Suvarnabhumi via the Middle East or Singapore, she said.
"Many shipments of ivory are kept at a Middle East transit point for some time before being sent to Thailand and other countries," said Karl Karugaba, an intelligence officer with the LATF.
Mr Karugaba, who is considered an expert in the fight against illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, and Thai authorities admitted there was a lack of good coordination. He said there was a need for better data sharing so they could be more effective in their pursuit of criminals.
"[Elephant] poaching is a big problem in Africa," he said. "We hope for an exchange of intelligence information and closer cooperation after the meeting."
Thailand is not alone in facing the illegal ivory trade. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Vietnam are also favourite places for smugglers to have their raw products polished, LATF records show. Most raw tusks are sent to those countries from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Raw tusks are also smuggled out of India for carving and the problem is widespread in its southern and northeastern states, according to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of India.
That led to a reduction in the number of wild elephants in the country from 10,841 in 1999 to only about 8,000 in 2007, it said. One of the tactics smugglers use to take ivory and other wild animals or their bodies out of India is to use two different containers with the same serial number, Indian wildlife inspector Aarti Singh said in another workshop last week.
The real container is used to declare the freight at a port and then the smugglers switch the contraband to a fake container for shipment.
Pangolins are smuggled into Thailand through the southern border provinces from Sumatra in Indonesia via Malaysia and transported overland to China.
The main exporting routes from Thailand are through Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan, Pol Col Anurug Chatsuwan of the Natural Resources and Environment Crime Division, said.
With wildlife crime involving several countries, there is no solution to stamp out the problem, Justin Gosling, an Interpol officer in charge of the Environmental Crime Programme, said.
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About the author
Writer: Saritdet Marukatat
Position: News Editor