Singapore called on to ‘do more to intercept illegal ivory shipments’

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 22 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — Although Singapore has become less of a market for ivory, two conservation groups say the Republic could do more yet in preventing the contraband from landing in other countries.

Calling for greater enforcement to intercept illegal ivory shipments transiting through Singapore — despite the authorities here seizing a major haul last month — wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic and the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore pointed to illegal ivory tusks that have reportedly passed through Singapore undetected.

Last September, the Vietnamese authorities seized 19kg of ivory from a woman who had taken a Vietnam Airlines flight from Singapore. And last July, 405 tusks that had passed through Singapore were seized in Johor, the groups said.

Last month, however, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Singapore Customs intercepted a shipment of about 1.8 tonnes of raw ivory tusks declared as “waste paper” from Africa — the second-largest seizure since 2002.

Ivory is generally smuggled from Africa to Asia. And Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, according to Traffic South-east Asia’s Senior Programme Officer Kanitha Krishnasamy, are the region’s major transit points.

The amount of illegal ivory seized globally reached a record-high of 38.8 tonnes in 2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks seizures by countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This amounted to at least 2,500 elephants killed, said Ms Kanitha. There were 17 large-scale seizures (where over 800kg is seized) in 2011, more than double the previous high of eight in 2009.

She added that closer collaboration with ivory-exporting countries could also help enforcement, as the authorities there are more likely to have access to information on shipping routes or individuals. “A lot of times we see the buck stop at seizures. There should be more effort put into investigating who’s behind the trade, how things are being moved around, what else is involved,” she said.

International trade in ivory has been banned under the CITES since 1989. In Singapore, domestic trade in specimens acquired before 1990 — when elephants became listed as protected species — is allowed.

CITES permits must be obtained from the AVA by anyone who wants to import or re-export ivory products as personal effects, and they must have documentary proof that their specimens were legally acquired.

An AVA spokesperson added that ivory traders here are required to register their pre-convention ivory with the authority. The AVA tracks their stock balances during inspections.

Meanwhile, a survey of 100 shops here by Traffic and WWF Singapore found 19 selling ivory that vendors said were pre-convention stocks, down from 55 out of 100 surveyed in 2002. Vendors reported that ivory products were no longer popular here.

Keep close watch on illegal wildlife trade
Straits Times Forum 21 Feb 13;

THE report ("$2.5m shipment of illegal ivory from Africa seized"; Jan 31) revealed that about 1.8 tonnes of raw ivory tusks were seized in Singapore last month.

According to a 2012 report by the Traffic wildlife monitoring network, groups involved in the illegal wildlife trade have been tapping Singapore's status as a trading hub.

Singapore has also been identified as a key laundering point for illegally caught birds from the Solomon Islands ("S'pore named 'bird-laundering point'"; July 19, 2012).

More often than not, those who smuggle illegal wildlife products also smuggle other illegal items such as drugs. It is important that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and Singapore Customs keep a close watch on the illegal wildlife trade.

The money coming from consumers who pay high prices for ivory products fuels the black market run by rebels and smugglers.

In recent years, the illegal ivory trade has greatly empowered poachers with riches that buy them heavy weapons, and an increasing number of park rangers have been killed by poachers.

There have been incidents in Africa where armed groups of up to 30 rebels drove their trucks into national parks, shooting both animals and humans on sight. There have also been reports of poachers shooting elephants and rhinos from their helicopters. A rebel group known to kidnap and use children as soldiers and sex slaves is now also killing elephants for ivory.

The type of poaching we see today is no longer the poaching we knew a decade ago.

When we buy illegal animal products, we fund black market operations and help rebels buy weapons. We approve brutal violence to not just animals but also humans. While the riches of the black market soar, those working to conserve the wildlife in Africa struggle to work with limited money and resources.

Elephants that are poached for ivory die a horrific death. They are shot multiple times by automatic weapons, and as the root of their tusks is located near the eyes, approximately half of their faces together with their mouths and trunks are hacked off completely by axes or chainsaws. This allows poachers to extract full-length tusks from their kill.

In Singapore, all ivory products attained after the international trade ban in 1989 are illegal. We urge travellers never to buy ivory and other illegal wildlife parts when travelling, and to contact the authorities if ivory products are spotted on sale in Singapore.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: WILD

Fewer shops sell ivory, demand here 'bucks global trend'
Wildlife groups call for Republic to do more to halt illegal trade
Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Feb 13;

THE number of shops selling ivory here has more than halved in the last decade, a survey by two wildlife conservation groups has found.

In 2002, 55 of 100 ornament, antique, jewellery and souvenir shops polled at random sold ivory. Last year, only 19 of 100 did.

Worldwide demand for ivory is on the rise but these findings suggest that Singapore is bucking the trend, said Ms Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior programme officer at Traffic Southeast Asia, which carried out the survey with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

The amount of ivory seized in 2011 worldwide hit a high of 38.8 tonnes, according to an Elephant Trade Information System report - which translates to about 2,500 animals killed.

Last year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) reported that elephant poaching levels were at their worst in a decade.

Singapore laws state that it is legal to sell ivory obtained only before 1990 when elephants became listed as an endangered species under an international agreement.

Such trade must be backed by documentary proof that the ivory was acquired legally.

Those who want to import or re-export ivory products must also have such proof and a permit from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Traders here must register their pre-convention ivory stocks with the authority, which tracks their stock balances during inspections but does not disclose the total figure.

A Chinatown Complex stall, Wo Cheung Classic, - with a glass case of ivory bracelets and beads - displays its certificate showing that the material was imported before 1990.

But its proprietor, a woman who gave her name only as Mrs Ching, believes ivory is becoming unfashionable. She said: "No one buys ivory any more. Everyone knows elephants are endangered."

But Ms Krishnasamy said there is a possibility the trade may be shifting online or underground.

Traffic Southeast Asia and WWF Singapore have called for the Republic and other countries to disclose how much ivory stock they have, "simply to help figure out the dynamics of the trade", she said.

They also called for Singapore to do more to halt the illegal ivory trade by working with African countries which are exporting it.

As an international trading hub, Singapore is said to be a transit point for such contraband shipments, which are banned under Cites, an international convention on endangered species trade.

Last month, the AVA and Singapore Customs seized a 1.8 tonne, $2.5 million shipment of tusks from Africa disguised as waste paper. These were sent back to Africa for investigations.

Other recent illegal ivory shipments have been recorded as passing through the Republic. Last September, the Vietnamese authorities seized 19kg of ivory from a woman on a flight from Singapore and in July a shipment of 405 raw tusks that had earlier passed through Singapore was seized in Johor.

Most illegal ivory flows from Africa to Asia, said Ms Krishnasamy. "Africa has opened its doors to development from Asia, so there are larger flows of everything both ways." Contraband shipments may get missed in this higher volume of material.

Destination countries include China and Vietnam, while Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are transit points, she said.

Besides the disclosure of ivory stocks, methods like DNA mapping can tell where in Africa a piece of ivory came from.

Other tests can show how old the elephant was at death and even how recently it was killed, University of Washington conservation biologist Samuel Wasser told The Straits Times.

Such methods have been used on seizures, including those made in Singapore, to trace them back to specific countries, he said.