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Dr. Julius Kipng'etich, Director, Kenya Wildlife Service
Dr. Kipng’etich spoke about the poaching crisis in Kenya’s national parks and preserves, which make up 8% of the country’s total land area.
Kenya has the third largest population of elephants in the world, the third largest population of rhinoceros in the world, and approximately one-quarter of the world’s lions. Ecotourism is essential to Kenya’s economic development: for every 10 tourists that visit Kenya, one new job is created.
Poaching presents serious challenges to the preservation of biodiversity in Kenya’s parks and preserves. Last year alone, 278 elephants were killed illegally. Poachers are motivated by the high value of animal products. Ivory, for example, can be sold for as much as $2,000/kilogram on the black market, and rhino horn can fetch as much as $65,000/kilogram. Poached materials travel through the same channels as human and drug trafficking, and the terrorist organization al-Shabaab has been linked to poaching in Kenya.
Most seizures of ivory and rhino horn happen in Kenya since Kenya has excellent possibilities for travel through Kenya Airlines and the port of Mombasa. Poachers will often disguise where their cargo has originated in order to avoid suspicion.
The Kenyan government supports a total ban on the sale of ivory and rhino horn, and Kenya has erected 1400 kilometers of electric fences as a first line of defense in human-wildlife conflict. In order to combat illegal poaching, the Kenyan Wildlife Service uses highly skilled, specialized units, including K-9 and horse-mounted units to back up wildlife rangers in intense conflicts. Kenya has helped to train new enforcement officers from several countries in Africa in an effort to shore up the regional capacity to deter and catch poachers.
Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on African Poaching Crisis:
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, entitled Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa, on the growing poaching crisis in Africa and its implications for U.S. foreign and domestic policies. Witnesses, including Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, and John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, "testified to the clear links between the surging illegal trade in high-value wildlife products, such as elephant ivory and rhino horn, and transnational criminal networks that are creating instability, breeding corruption, and helping to fund militant insurgencies, particularly in Central Africa."
Senator John Kerry remarked that “Poaching is not just a security threat in Africa. It’s also a menace to developing economies, and it thrives where governance is weakest. Poachers with heavy weapons are a danger to lightly armed rangers and civilians as well as the animals they target.”
According to the African Wildlife Fund, poachers have claimed more than 900 rhinos across Africa in the past three years. Between 2007 and 2011, rhino poaching increased by 3,000 percent in South Africa alone. Black market prices, driven by surging prices for wildlife products in East Asia, with rhino horn at times more valuable per ounce than gold. Last year, more than 23 metric tons of illegal ivory were seized—that of nearly 2,500 elephants.
Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who has studied elephants in Africa since the 1960s, warned of an "acute crisis" going unnoticed by the wider world, and stressed that China has emerged as "the leading driver of illegal trade in ivory."
The net effect of these depredations is insecurity, violence, and corruption—not to mention the devastation of existing and potential opportunities for tourism and economic development – and ultimately instability of entire regions.
Poaching is interwoven into some of Central and East Africa’s most brutal conflicts and many of those combatants are essentially members of criminal gangs, preying upon the communities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN reports charge that all parties to the conflict—including the Congolese Army—have participated in this lucrative trade. Multiple reports describe armed men coming across the border from Sudan into the Central African Republic or from Somalia into Kenya to kill elephants and smuggle out the ivory. The scope and lethality of the poaching industry are only increasing as armed groups expand their criminal networks and profit from the lucrative trade in conflict minerals and illegal timber.
Senator Chris Coons warned of the harmful secondary effects of the ivory trade: "It is financing terrorism, guerrillas and organized crime.” Crime syndicates are exploiting lax US rules on shell companies that allow foreign nationals to set up vast money-laundering operations, said Tom Cardamone, managing director of monitor group Global Financial Integrity. The use of anonymous shell companies, often layered via multiple jurisdictions, is one of the most effective tools available to money launderers and organized criminals, obscuring the money trail and impeding law enforcement investigations. They are frequently used not just by wildlife traffickers, but also by American and foreign terrorists, narco-traffickers, arms dealers, corrupt foreign officials, tax evaders, rogue states, and other criminals, to easily launder their money. GFI said the ivory trade has become a lucrative offshoot of the illicit wildlife trade, valued at up to $10 billion. As organized crime, militias, and terrorist entities have become more involved in the illegal trade of wildlife in recent years, the use of sophisticated money laundering schemes to move their profits and shield the organizations from detection and prosecution are routinely detected.
A recent report from the World Bank revealed that the United States was the locale of choice for corrupt foreign politicians establishing offshore shell companies to launder their money and gain access to the international financial system.
There is much to be done in addressing this crisis. As a first step, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC recommended that wildlife crime be treated with the same seriousness and level of attention as other transnational organized crime.
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Full text of Chairman Kerry’s hearing statement
WWF: Statement on Senate Hearing on African Poaching Crisis
Global Finance Integrity: GFI’s Tom Cardamone to Testify before Senate Regarding Global Security Implications of Poaching
Global Finance Integrity: Written Testimony of Tom Cardamone, Managing Director of GFI, before U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing
C-SPAN: Ivory Poachers Hide Behind State-Created "Shell" Companies