In combating Wildlife Crime, the Elephant Action League and other like-minded organizations certainly chose a very difficult mission.
Illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organized crime, including global terror groups and militias, according to a 2014 report by the United Nations and Interpol. But with governments and large NGOs unwilling to wade into politically turbulent waters, the burden to stop wildlife criminals rests on the shoulders of independent organizations and committed people.
Elephant Action League is in the middle of this war, fighting criminals, protecting the innocent and empowering others to bring an end to wildlife crime.
Offenses like poaching, trafficking in live or dead endangered animals and illegal logging, are complex phenomenon where a variety of factors interact – cultural, social, economic and environmental – and often involve different actors. The causes and the consequences of wildlife crime vary among countries, areas and local communities, but it always threatens the existence of many plant and animal species, hinders sustainable social and economic development, and has destabilizing effects on society.
For most countries, combating wildlife crime is unfortunately not a priority and almost always remains overlooked and poorly understood.
Wildlife offences enrich international criminal groups and enable corruption to flourish. Fraud, counterfeiting, money-laundering and violence are often found in combination with various forms of wildlife crime. The risk involved is low compared to other kinds of trafficking, like drugs, but the profits are very high. It’s now clear that wildlife trafficking has wide national and international security implications, but governments tend to see the problem as just an environmental issue and the global fight to wildlife crime is failing.
The role of NGOs and activists remains crucial. As INTERPOL notes: “the next big step must be to bridge the divisions that separate law enforcement agencies from the public, the activists, the academics, and the policy makers. If we, the international community, are committed to the conservation of the world’s environment, biodiverstity, and natural resources, all five elements must work together in harmony” (INTERPOL, Environmental Crime Programme, 2009).
WHAT WE DO
Our Mission is to fight wildlife crime through Concrete, Innovative and Collaborative projects, and we are currently already operating directly or in collaboration with partners, in 7 African and 4 Asian countries.
For security reasons though, in order to protect our sources and not jeopardize our undercover investigative activities, we keep confidential most of our partners in the field and the details of our operations.
We’re are currently running three complex long-term investigative projects in Eastern Africa, in collaboration with partners and security professionals. We also operate in two Southern Africans countries.
We collect information and actionable intelligence, we build networks of collaborators in the field, we research on the “modus operandi‘ of the organizations behind the illegal trafficking, we target the individuals and organizations that are profiting from the poaching of wildlife and the illegal trade, and when possible we share with trusted law enforcement agencies.
In order not to jeopardize our field activities and the safety of our collaborators, we cannot share much until we publish our final reports. Within the context of these three investigative projects, we often use the information that we receive anonymously through WildLeaks, the world’s first wildlife crime whistleblower initiative, launched by the Elephant Action League in February 2014.
The Mombasa Port
One of our targets was the Port of Mombasa. Since 2009, over 43,000 kg of ivory have been trafficked through Kenya’s largest port over the last several years and the only way this can happen is if there is a high degree of corruption and complicity at the Port.
Within a wider investigation in the city of Mombasa, acting in part on intelligence received via the wildlife crime whistleblower initiative ‘WildLeaks’, the Elephant Action League (EAL), in collaboration with a key partner, conducted an undercover survey in early 2015 that exposed port vulnerabilities that are routinely exploited by organized wildlife crime networks.
The Mombasa Port is a liability for the people and wildlife of African countries and is both a national and international security threat due to the porous nature of its security systems and ease with which traffickers operate.
Click here for the public report: EAL Mombasa Report – 28 May 2015
Pushing Ivory Out of Africa
In 2014, Elephant Action League, in collaboration with Global Eye, launched a 12-month investigative project with the intention of infiltrating an elephant poaching and ivory trafficking network in order to better understand how these syndicates operate in East Africa.
What our assets in the field were able to confirm fits well within the established knowledge of the various operating models that organized crime utilizes. However, in some respects our analysis of the intelligence is at odds with the accepted law enforcement and conservation narratives on ivory trafficking networks.
This report is based on information collected across Kenya (with inputs from other Eastern African countries) through the infiltration of four separate ivory trafficking networks. In addition to specific information on persons-of-interest that has been shared with law enforcement agents, the work has so far generated several key points that contribute to understanding the continuation of Africa’s elephant poaching and ivory trafficking crisis, and why these issues will potentially remain a global problem for the foreseeable future.
Based on information collected and intelligence analysis throughout the course of this investigation, three stark components of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking were identified:
- Ivory is PUSHED out of East Africa as much as it is PULLED out by foreign consumers. ‘Pushing’ ivory entails East African nationals exerting significant control over access to ivory and its subsequent movement along the supply chain to consumer nations.
- Elephant poaching and ivory trafficking syndicates do not always use a hierarchical ‘kingpin’ chain-of-command model. These non-hierarchical networks can reorganize and remobilize quickly in the event of the removal of a single paymaster.
- Poachers may be rural or urban-based. Conservation tools that focus on community-based natural resource management and alternative livelihoods will not have the intended effect on urban-based poaching cells.
Click here for the public report: Pushing Ivory Out of Africa – A Case Study
The detailed findings from both investigations were published and widely circulated in 2015. Relevant law enforcement authorities have received confidential intelligence briefs (CIBs) from us and we are encouraging them to act on the information.
A Graveyard for Elephants and Rhinos and a Major Regional Trafficking Hub
Between 2009-2014, Mozambique lost nearly 50% of its elephant population. Aerial census estimates published at the end of 2014 suggest that only 10,300 animals have survived Africa’s most recent elephant poaching onslaught. Many areas where elephants have historically occurred in Mozambique are almost completely devoid of the species.We saw this for ourselves when we visited the Quirimbas National Park in northern Mozambique.
While Mozambique no longer has wild rhinos – the last ones were killed in 2013 – the country nonetheless plays a significant role in the perpetuation of rhino poaching. Middlemen in Mozambique organize the trafficking of rhino horn from South Africa, often employing their own countrymen to illegally cross into South Africa’s Kruger National Park to poach rhinos.
Based on information we received through WildLeaks, we conducted a recce trip to Northern Mozambique in June 2014, identifying a few trusted sources and collecting information on local powerful businessmen allegedly trafficking ivory and other wildlife products using one or more Chinese logging companies operating in Mozambique.
We are still gathering information and working on the next phase of this project, including fundraising.
Picture: What is left of the elephants of Taratibu, Quirimbas National Park (Credit Elephant Action League)
Asia is the destination of many illegal wildlife products, and China in particular is the world’s single-largest consumer of ivory, tiger bone and rhino horns.
Other illegally trafficked wildlife include leopards, bears, birds, pangolins, gorillas, chimps and turtles, all of them subjected to high levels of poaching and trafficking to satisfy demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, as luxury trinkets, home décor, bushmeat and exotic pets.
The Elephant Action League is currently focused on the illegal traffic of ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products in Asian countries. We’re currently running two long-term research projects, in Hong Kong and mainland China, in order to better understand who are the players, the “modus operandi‘, the role of legal businesses and shipping companies, the possible involvement of the local authorities, the role of certain retailers.
In February 2014, we received high quality information detailing one of the loopholes that traffickers utilize in Hong Kong’s port via our WildLeaks initiative. Following information coming from different sources, including an anonymous submission with a photo of a Hong Kong Customs note with the names of the consignees of an ivory seizure, in early 2015 we sent a team to Hong Kong to work with local sources and collaborators.
We surveyed dozens of shops selling ivory and collected valuable information which was shared with a local NGO. The information gathering activities are still ongoing, as we are trying to better understand the links between Africa, Hong Kong and China.
A public report will be published at the end of 2015, and confidential intelligence briefs will be shared with the relevant authorities. We are also active in South East Asia and we hope to publish the first results by mid 2016.
Pictures: Ivory on sale in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Port (Photo credits: Elephant Action League)
PROJECTS CO-FUNDED BY US
All too often, the good intentions (and usually, funding) of larger NGOs and foreign governments are not accurately targeted when attempting to address an issue such as the illegal wildlife trade. Unfamiliarity with the systems and laws of a foreign country and the customs of the people can result in glaring inefficiencies and missed opportunities for meaningful collaboration.
Looking beyond the logos and well-known acronyms is something that the EAL does very deliberately, when working in the field. Focusing on smaller, locally-based NGOs that address wildlife crime and wildlife protection can have an immediate, long-lasting impact and provides us with an accurate and current situation report at a local level.
ANTI-POACHING IN TANZANIA, EASTERN AFRICA
The current global ivory poaching crisis has seen a massive impact on elephant numbers across Africa, and Tanzania, being also one of the major shipping points to Asia, is losing thousands of elephants every year. Official figures report at least 30 elephants killed every day by poachers in Tanzania. Tanzania is also one of the most important African hubs regarding the illegal trafficking of ivory and other wildlife products.
In order to step up efforts to combat the elephant poaching onslaught in Tanzania, the PAMS Foundation, in conjunction with Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), trained four rapid response teams of field rangers in 2013-2014, consisting of ten rangers in each team.
This intervention was made possible thanks to the support of Elephant Action League and other donors.
Having a well-trained, well-equipped, well-managed and highly motivated ranger corps is a non-negotiable need in order to be able to properly patrol protected areas, monitor wildlife habitat, and respond appropriately to poaching situations in the field.
The Project’s main objectives are: • providing advanced training on anti-poaching • establishing an informer network in communities adjacent to the National Park for the gathering and analysis of intelligence information needed for enabling effective preventive and reactive actions against poacher networks • providing incentives for exemplary performance • developing a security plan for the Park
ANTI-TRAFFICKING AND CAPACITY BUILDING IN GUINEA-CONAKRY AND TOGO, WESTERN AFRICA
The NGO Wara Conservation Project (WCP), based in Conakry, has taken on the LAGA replication, naming the project GALF (Guinée Application de la Loi Faunique). Wara had been working for years in Guinea, and realized, as conservation in Central Africa has, that the application of the wildlife law is a key element in protecting species vulnerable to illegal wildlife trade.
In collaboration with the Guinean ministry in charge of wildlife and INTERPOL, and with the help of LAGA and Conservation Justice, GALF helped bring forth the first operations concerning wildlife crime in Guinea. http://irokoheritage.com/2013/08/26/notorious-guinea-conakry-wildlife-criminal-arrested-at-last/
In August 2015 Ansoumane Doumbouya, the former head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea, was arrested along with the infamous wildlife trafficker Thierno Barry in Conakry.
ANTI-TRAFFICKING IN GABON, CENTRAL AFRICA
Recent studies show that elephants have decreased by 62% across Central Africa in the last 10 years. The analysis confirmed fears that African forest elephants are heading for extinction, possibly within the next decade. Conservation and anti-trafficking activities are not easy in Gabon, a country larger than UK and more than 80% covered by forest.
The Elephant Action League funded the Gabonese NGO Conservation Justice for over two years in 2013 and 2014, with the establishment of an office/antenna in Eastern Gabon, so that Conservation Justice can be present in the whole country, monitoring wildlife crime.
The goal of this project is to protect elephants and apes through assisting the government of Gabon, increasing their capacity to enforce wildlife law and to produce effective deterrents against the killing of threatened wildlife.
This project brought the first results after only a few months, with the arrest one of the most important ivory traffickers in the country: http://en.gabonews.com/