Kenya turned into ivory trade hub

KPA workers in Embakasi, Nairobi with a tusk that was part of a consignment of 87 seized last month on its way to Hong Kong. Photo/FILE

Kenya has become a transit point for contraband ivory, it was revealed on Friday.

Kenya Wildlife Services director Julius Kipng’etich said poachers from Congo, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia were shipping their illegal cargo through the Mombasa port to Asia.

“They favour Kenya because the port of Mombasa is fast moving and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was one of the only three airports in Africa with direct flights to Asia,” he said.

Nine-year ban

In the past two weeks, police have impounded dozens of ivory suspected to be on transit to Malaysia and China.

Mr Kipng’etich blamed the rise on the lifting of a nine-year ban on ivory sales in 2007.

“When Tanzania and Zambia applied last year to move from appendix one to appendix two so they could be allowed to trade in ivory we opposed it because we had foreseen illegal traders would take advantage,” he said.

Mr Kipng’etich said poachers took advantage of the window opened to smuggle contraband ivory.

“But our numbers are stable as we lose only between 100 and 150 elephants a year, against 1,000 births. This is one of the lowest mortality rates in the world given 60 percent are from natural attrition,” said Mr Kipng’etich.

He said the 87 elephant tusks recently seized in Nairobi and Mombasa were awaiting a forensic expert from the USA to ascertain their origin.

“DNA analysis carried by the University of Washington Forensic Lab had also indicated the 335 tusks recently burnt by President Kibaki at Manyani came from Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi,” said Mr Kipngetich

The Sh1.5 billion shillings worth of ivory was seized in Singapore in 2002. Mr Kipng’etich said a forensic laboratory will be put up next year in Nairobi at the cost of Sh14 million.

“Poachers stopped using JKIA when we tightened security there. Now we have also tightened our Mombasa dog unit and we don’t know where they will move to next,” he said.

He said Kenya was in talks with Ethiopia and Tanzania to enhance surveillance at ports.

Kenya has 37,000 elephants, the fourth highest numbers in Africa after Botswana (140,000), Tanzania (100, 000) and Zimbabwe (70,000).

Experts, however, now say increased presence of China, world’s biggest market of ivory, in Africa is emerging as a renewed threat to survival of elephants.

“New demand in China is pushing up the price of ivory on the black-market and increasing incentives for poaching,” Mr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of charity Save the Elephants, told Reuters.