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Reports from HPR's Dave Lawrence

Asia Pacific Nationals Arrested Exploiting Wildlife In Africa



A pair of Vietnamese nationals have been arrested with one of the largest illegal wildlife seizures ever in Uganda. The AP reported that Ugandan officials intercepted the two along with 750 pieces of elephant ivory and thousands of pangolin scales. Authorities believe the haul was coming from South Sudan, and originated in Congo. The AP said the Uganda Revenue Authority found the ivory and pangolin scales hidden inside timber that was packed into three freight containers.  

Wildlife experts have warned that as newly emerging middle classes rapidly develop in China and Vietnam, increasing numbers of Asia Pacific nationals are operating in Africa, involved in the killing of critically endangered species, and the smuggling of their body parts back to Asia. That’s where consumers in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and, when it comes to elephant ivory, even Japan, are causing multiple extinction crises. As awareness grows of the threat they pose to wildlife, the criminals have begun operating clandestine backyard factories where they carve the items into trinkets, chop sticks and jewelry in an attempt to avoid detection. Now a pair of Asia Pacific nationals from among the worst offending countries have been busted in a massive seizure illustrating just how far from Asia these nationals are traveling to kill off the world’s most iconic – and sometimes lesser known – animal species.

The AP quoted a Belgian researcher who has studied how individual traders factor into the ivory trade. Kristof Titeca told them this bust proves that Uganda “still is a major transit point for illegal wildlife". Mozambique is another of the suspected main departure points for things like rhino horn, elephant ivory and pangolin scales to be exported from Africa to Asia. 

All eight surviving species of pangolins are under the heaviest level of protection from CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as Asia Pacific consumers have driven a killing spree of an estimated one million pangolins over the last decade. Consumers in China and other Asia countries eat both their meat and their scales in a belief they have some medicinal properties as a part of Chinese traditional medicine. There is no scientific proof of any medical benefit, but there is evidence that the Asian species are nearly extinct, having been nearly completely wiped out by poachers. Conservationists don’t know how many pangolins remain, but the size of many recent busts – tons of pangolin scales at a time – indicate the small scaled toothless mammals, are facing a brutal onslaught.

As for elephants, there were 1.3 million in Africa in the 1970s, the AP reported, but now that population is under 500,000, with tens of thousands of elephants killed every year for their tusks. China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are among the top ivory consuming nations. A huge Chinese middle class that is thought to number 400 million has brought about a fast-moving extinction crisis for many animal species these consumers are seeking body parts from: elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolins and totoaba fish are among the most imperiled animals they're decimating. Experts have warned that this rate of killing is unsustainable, and point to China’s enormous population and strong lust for critically endangered wildlife parts as the top force pushing these extinction crises.

Next week we’ll have a special Helping Hand segment about a local event happening February 16th being held by Wild Aloha Foundation to raise awareness and funds in the fight to defend the pangolins.

Asia Pacific nationals are reported to be operating clandestine backyard factories across Africa where they carve the elephant tusks and rhino horn into trinkets and jewelry in an attempt to evade detection when being smuggled back to Asia.

Find more features and interviews from Dave Lawrence.

Dave Lawrence is the local host of All Things Considered, Road Stories (formerly Off the Road), and Stargazer.
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