NAIROBI, November 17 – The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) announced on Monday that cases of illicit trade in ivory and other wildlife items had risen in 2008 compared to the past two years.,
KWS deputy director Peter Leitoro told journalists that ivory trade has fuelled the illegal killing of elephants resulting in a decline of their populations over the years.
“From our analysis – and I’m talking about 2006 to 2007 trends as compared to 2008 – what we are seeing is that it’s an increasing trend,” Mr Leitoro warned but added: “There are mechanisms through the Interpol, the Lusaka Agreement and all the other countries operations being directed to be able to address that challenge.”
He was speaking while announcing the results of a four month undercover operation involving five African range countries aimed at curbing illicit ivory.
During the operation code named ‘Project Baba’ which was coordinated by Interpol, Kenyan security authorities arrested 36 suspected ivory traders and seized 113 pieces of ivory.
Mr Leitoro said: “KWS is in the process of modernising and enhancing its law enforcement capacity through the acquisition of ivory detectors and other specialised security equipment in order to counter wildlife crimes more efficiently.”
He said most of the trophies were seized while on transit mostly heading to South East Asia where they are valued at US$700-800 (an average of Sh50,000) per kilogramme in the international black market.
Mr Leitoro said most of the suspects who were arrested locally were Kenyan while three Chinese were arrested trying to smuggle the items out of the country.
According to the KWS, raw ivory can be sold for as much as 1,500 dollars (Sh100,000) by illegal traders in Kenya.
Interpol Africa project programme manager Peter Younger said the operation which was conducted in five countries led to the arrest of 57 suspected illegal wildlife product dealers and the seizure of 1,000 kilogram’s of powdered, carved and raw items of ivory.
All the participating countries simultaneously struck at illegal domestic markets over the weekend in a co-ordinated manner to ensure that illegal ivory dealers who attempted to cross borders were intercepted.
He said through the Operational Assistance Service and Infrastructure Support (OASIS) programme, Interpol would assist countries in Africa to mount such operations by enhancing their capacity to address crime threats nationally, regionally and globally.
Mr Younger said: “This is not just about eliminating illegal killing of elephants. Wildlife crime follows effortlessly into narcotics and human trafficking, money laundering and corruption. We see the connection across all this fields of crime so these sorts of operations are important to us in a much wider perspective.”
Apart from Kenya, the international swoop targeted local ivory markets, airports border crossing and smuggling points in Congo Brazzaville, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia.