Monday, September 5, 2011

Bid to smuggle 695 elephant tusks in Malaysia foiled

This is worrying. More and more news reports of the illegal trade of elephant tusks in Malaysia, are being reported.

On Friday, 2nd September 2011, 2 containers containing 695 elephant tusks weighing 2,000 kg, worth Ringgit Malaysia, RM 3 million were seized by the Customs Department in Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, according to the Malaysian Customs department.

The seizure was the second in the space of a fortnight in Malaysia.

On August 19th 2011, 664 elephant tusks weighing 1,586 kg worth RM 2.3 million were seized in Penang.

So in the span of 14 days, a total of 1,359 elephant tusks valued at RM 5.3 million, were busted by the Malaysian authority.

How many more cases out there which include those who managed to avoid detection by authorities?

All the tusks in the Port Klang and Penang cases, were hidden amongst recycled crushed plastic in 20-foot containers.

Both shipments were from Tanzania, an African nation known for its rich elephants habitats.

Both shipments had stopped for transhipment in Malaysia with China being its final destination.

The shipment in the Port Klang case was declared as 'recycle crush plastic and was on transit from Dar Es Salaam Port to China.

The Malaysian Custom department believes it was possible that the same syndicate was behind the Penang and Port Klang cases as the modus operandi for both cases were similar.

Investigations are ongoing to determine those involved. So far no arrests had been made for both cases.

Meanwhile a report said more than 20 tonnes of illegal ivory have passed through at least two Malaysian ports since 2003, earning the country an unsavoury reputation as a transhipment hub for the multi-million ringgit trade and the figure involves only those seized.

Wildlife monitoring trade network Traffic regional director Dr William Schaedla said Malaysia had become a major hub for illegal ivory trade in the last few years.

This could have been caused by stricter enforcement measures in neighbouring countries, leading smugglers to venture through Malaysian ports, he said.

“Smugglers tend to move to an easier' place. If enforcement in other countries heats up, then they will find a soft spot elsewhere,” he said.

It was reported that 794 African ivory tusks were confiscated by Hong Kong authorities on Monday, 5th September 2011 after they arrived by sea from Malaysia.

The tusks, weighing 1.9 tonnes and estimated to be worth around HK$ 13 million (RM 4.97 million), was concealed in a consignment declared as non-ferrous products for factory use.

The seizure came after last week's report that more than 1,000 elephant tusks were seized by Tanzanian authorities in Tanzania. The tusks were hidden in a strong-smelling container of anchovies destined for Malaysia.

The huge amount of ivory being shipped accounts for thousands of elephants killed in the past few decades.

Some tusks come from freshly-killed animals while others are from stockpiles.

Dr Schaedla said it was vital that Malaysia increased its regional cooperation and exchange of information with Asean countries via the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network.

He also suggested that customs officers improve their communication mechanisms by using the Ecomessage system set up by Interpol.

(Ecomessage is a database to coordinate international efforts to combat environmental crime, including illegal trafficking of wildlife.)

Dr Schaedla commended the Customs Department for heightening its enforcement measures of late, saying: “Malaysia is now quite serious about wildlife crime but still has a long way to go.”

Traffic has identified Malaysia as “a country of concern” in its latest Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) report.

Among the countries that seized ivory shipments after transiting through Malaysian ports were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The latter two (Vietnam and Thailand) are themselves known transit hubs for the illegal ivory trade, according to Traffic reports.

A general manager of a shipping company said there were around 50,000 to 100,000 containers which entered ports for transit in a month, adding that the containers were allowed to be stored free in the container yard for 28 days.

He claimed that Customs officers would only conduct an X-ray inspection on containers if they had a tip-off.

According to the World Wildlife Fund Global website, there could have been as many as three to five million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s.

However, today, only some 300,000 elephants roam southern Africa and considerably fewer in West Africa.

Poor those African elephants, Damn those smugglers!!

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