Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Singapore destroys 7.9 tonnes of seized ivory worth $13 million

AVA destroys $13m worth of seized ivory
By Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2016

A huge load of smuggled elephant ivory, estimated to be worth about $13 million, was pulverised and incinerated by the Singapore authorities yesterday.

This is the first time that the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is crushing seized ivory and strongly signals that Singapore does not tolerate being a conduit for smuggling endangered species and their parts, AVA said.

In all, 7.9 tonnes of ivory was crushed yesterday, some of it at an event in Tuas attended by Senior Minister of State for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee.

At the event, workers loaded pieces of ivory onto an excavator which dropped them into an industrial rock crusher.

Small pieces of crushed ivory came out on a conveyer belt and these were poured into a container. The pieces were later incinerated at an eco-waste incineration plant and the ashes will be used as landfill at Pulau Semakau.

The ivory that was crushed came from four seizures over 2014 and last year. The largest one took place in May last year where a shipment, declared as tea leaves from Kenya bound for Vietnam, was intercepted by the local authorities.

It was found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 1,783 ivory tusks weighing about 4.6 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $8 million.

Mr Lee said in a statement: "By crushing the ivory, we ensure it does not re-enter the ivory market … We will continue enforcement efforts, to prevent Singapore from being used as a transit point."

Most of the ivory seized by the local authorities in the past decade happened in recent years.

Last year, 6.85 tonnes of ivory tusks were seized. In 2014 and 2013, 1.08 and 1.8 tonnes of ivory were seized respectively.

AVA said the public can also play a role in tackling the illegal wildlife trade by not buying products that come from such trade.

Conservation groups welcomed the move to crush the ivory, with some calling for stricter regulation to curb illegal wildlife trade further.

Mr Kim Stengert, director of communications at WWF Singapore, said: "Catching up with our neighbours on the punitive action against illegal wildlife trade could be a very useful step to curbing trafficking through Singapore".

He noted that the maximum jail term for importing and exporting endangered species or their parts was seven years in Malaysia, five years in Indonesia and four years in Thailand. But the penalty for infringing the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act here is a maximum jail term of two years.

Dr Chris Shepherd, regional director of Traffic in South-east Asia, said other kinds of wildlife products were being smuggled through Singapore. Traffic is a wildlife trade monitoring organisation.

He cited shipments of pangolin scales from Nigeria recently seized in Singapore, as well as reptiles and birds and other species seized at the border crossing with Malaysia.

Illegal ivory from 4 seizures
The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2016

The ivory destroyed yesterday came from these four seizures:

JANUARY 2014: Two Vietnamese travellers were arrested at Changi Airport for smuggling 13 ivory tusks, 16 ivory bangles and 109 ivory cubes estimated to be worth about $65,000. The ivory was going from Africa to Laos. The travellers were jailed for 16 months.

MARCH 2014: A shipment from Uganda to Vietnam declared as "coffee berries" was intercepted and detained by the Singapore authorities.

The shipment was found to contain 106 ivory tusks weighing about 1 tonne and estimated to be worth about $2 million. The freight forwarder was issued with a warning for facilitating the transport of the shipment.

MAY 2015: A shipment from Kenya to Vietnam declared as "tea leaves" was intercepted and held by the local authorities.

The shipment was found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 1,783 ivory tusks weighing about 4.6 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $8 million.

The freight forwarder was fined $5,000 for not making enough effort to ensure that the shipment did not contain contraband.

DECEMBER 2015: Six shipments from Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Laos, declared as "hair wigs" and "personal effects", were intercepted and held by the Singapore authorities.

The shipments were found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 851 ivory tusks weighing about 2.25 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $3 million.

The two freight forwarding companies were fined $5,000 each for not making enough effort to ensure that the shipment did not contain contraband.

Heating up war on wildlife trade
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2016

In one of the strongest signals of Singapore's "zero tolerance" for the illegal wildlife trade, the authorities on Monday destroyed 7.9 tonnes of ivory that more than 900 African elephants died for.

The seized ivory is worth about $13 million, and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) move ensured it did not re-enter the market.

Other countries have taken similar actions. On April 30, Kenya torched some $135 million worth, with its President Uhuru Kenyatta saying "ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants".

Singapore's action was a good show of support for the global commitment to end the trade. But measures to combat wildlife trafficking must go beyond the symbolic. This is especially since the Republic's status as a trade and shipping hub means it is a transit point for more than just ivory.

Conservation groups have suggested proactive measures such as raising the penalties for wildlife trafficking; improving enforcement through ways such as using sniffer dogs; and monitoring the impact of public symbolic acts like the ivory destruction on consumers and traders.

Studies show the illegal wildlife trade harms more than just animals. A recent Interpol report found it to be linked closely to other forms of serious crime, such as drug trafficking, murder and even terrorism, when revenues from trade in wildlife parts are used to fund rebel organisations and terrorist networks.

AVA has, among other things, acted by conducting unannounced checks at retail outlets, and inspecting all shipments that come under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Trade in animals on the Cites list is prohibited without a permit. It has also urged people not to fuel demand.

Tackling the illegal wildlife trade would undoubtedly require action from all parties. But considering the links that the illegal wildlife trade has with other forms of serious crime, perhaps the Government should look to tackling it with the same determination it took to make Singapore a drug-free country.

Getting on tail of wildlife plunderers

Editorial, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2016

In pulverising and incinerating a huge load of smuggled elephant ivory, Singapore signalled that such trade is not tolerated here. Although the country is neither the origin nor the final destination of wildlife contraband, the action taken by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority emphasises that it will not allow Singapore to be a conduit for smuggling endangered species and their parts. While the destruction of 7.9 tonnes of seized ivory, whose estimated market value was $13 million, represents just a small part of the global efforts to eradicate a cruel and lucrative trade, every step counts.

As the region is both producer and consumer, Asean has an important role to play in curbing a surge in environmental crime. Thankfully, the organisation has put trafficking of wildlife and timber on its list of transnational crimes regarded as threats and launched a 500-page legal toolkit on fighting environmental crime.

However, enforcement lags far behind such good intentions in South-east Asia, where environmental crime accounts for 25 per cent of the total value of criminal activity. Globally, according to United Nations estimates, environmental crime is worth up to US$213 billion (S$288 billion) a year and covers a range of activities - illegal fishing and the killing of rhinoceroses and elephants in Africa, timber theft in Laos and Myanmar, and the illegal export and dumping of hazardous waste. So bad is the situation that, in 2013, the US State Department declared that wildlife trafficking had evolved from a conservation issue to an "acute security threat".

That is how trafficking should be treated and fought. The recent discovery of scores of dead tiger cubs at the Tiger Temple in Thailand brought to the surface the presence of tourist attractions that could be fronts for animal trafficking.

One problem is endemic corruption in the region on which ruthless traffickers feed. Singapore's no- nonsense attitude to corruption helps to enhance the ability to deal with a scourge that is contributing to environmental carnage, the destruction of ecosystems and the possible extinction of entire species. One statistic should help to put the threat in perspective: Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed illegally for their ivory across the African continent - an average of 96 elephants a day, or one every 15 minutes. This has to stop.

Apart from law enforcement, Asian nations should do more to disabuse consumers of the notion that exotic animal parts are potent. In fact, "rhinoceros horn as medication has no more curative power than chewing (one's) own nails", as a biotech industry observer noted. Yet, a poll last year showed that half of Guangzhou's residents had eaten wildlife, like snake blood, bear testicles and tiger paws. Wiping out the appetite for endangered animals is the first step to saving them.

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