Singapore flagged as major transit point for illegal ivory trade

SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Although the domestic market for ivory is small, Singapore has, for the first time, been named “a country of primary concern” by wildlife monitoring network Traffic, for its role as a transit point for illegal ivory trade from Africa to other Asian countries.

The Republic was grouped with Malaysia, Malawi and Togo for their role as a major transit hub in the illegal ivory trade in a report Traffic produced for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) conference to be held in South Africa this month. Singapore’s inclusion on the list of countries of primary concern will be discussed at the conference, where proposals to increase or decrease controls on international trade in wildlife and wildlife products are also on the agenda.

Using data from 2012 to 2014, Traffic found that Singapore and these countries rarely made ivory seizures and were seldom implicated in seizures made by others. But where there were seizures, the cases tended to involve large quantities. This group had the greatest proportion of seizures that weighed 800kg or more, suggesting that the bulk of the illicit ivory traffic was part of a “higher-level organised criminal activity”, said Traffic.

This group of countries also had a “rather poor” mean law enforcement ratio, which suggested that “considerable quantities of illicit ivory traffic probably move through these countries without being detected”, said Traffic. The figure was calculated by taking the number of seizures each country makes, and dividing it by the total number of seizures the country is implicated in.

The sale of ivory was banned worldwide in 1989. In places like China and Hong Kong, ivory is used in ornaments, jewellery and at times, in traditional Chinese medicine.

Assessing the results, Traffic said that shipping ivory through Singapore — which became more prominent between 2012 and 2014 — is possibly an alternative to Malaysia. The latter remains a leading transit destination for large ivory consignments.

Speaking to TODAY, Traffic’s ivory expert Tom Milliken said Singapore is being “used against its will as a trans-shipment point” so that ivory can reach destinations such as Vietnam and China.

“They are also banking on the fact that 30 million containers move through Singapore every year so the odds are in their favour that their shipment will pass through without its contents detected,” he said.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it has handled 12 cases of illegal ivory import or transshipment in the past decade. About 10 tonnes of ivory from countries such as Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, and the United States were seized. On top of efforts at regulating trade and public education, the AVA said it also collaborates with international, regional and national enforcement agencies on intel-sharing, risk assessment or profiling to target high-risk shipments, border inspections and investigations.

Asked about the report, the AVA said it has reviewed it and the proposal to list some countries as a “country of primary concern” will be discussed at the upcoming Cites meeting.

Dr Milliken suggested that the AVA commit more resources to stop illegal wildlife trade. “The criminal syndicates are using Singapore because they know that the emphasis is on the interdiction of drugs, but not wildlife contraband. They are exploiting that situation,” he said.

For example, sniffer dogs here are used only to detect drugs and not ivory and rhino horn.

“It would be good to expand the capabilities of the canine units to address wildlife crime — this has been very effectively done in a lot of other countries,” said Dr Milliken. Despite this, he noted that Singapore has been doing a “good job” and important seizures have been made, he added.

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