A Weak Link in Africa’s Fight Against Illegal Wildlife Trade

As South Africa cracks down on elephant and rhino poaching, its neighbor is exposed.
An African elephant in Kruger National Park, where elephants and rhinos are being killed for ivory as a result of Mozambique's lax oversight of poachers. (Photo: Arno Meintjes Wildlife/Getty)
Aug 12, 2013· 2 MIN READ
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The Mozambique government has come under fire for its growing role as one of the major exporters of illegally acquired rhino horn and elephant ivory in Africa.

So says Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino coordinator for TRAFFIC International, a wildlife-trade-monitoring network. Recently, Milliken told Voice of America news that “Mozambique increasingly has become one of the major exit points” for the materials, a practice that has caused a “crisis for both species.” Milliken adds that Vietnamese ivory syndicates operating in Mozambique are responsible for the horns and tusks illegally leaving the country, and that it’s “very clear the improved law enforcement effort being made in South Africa has contributed to their new focus on Mozambique.”

In Mozambique poaching is illegal, but it’s not considered criminal. So, consequences are minimal. Milliken reports that the highly organized Vietnamese traders aren’t the only ones who take advantage of this. He says that Mozambique nationals are heavily involved in the poaching of rhino horns in Kruger National Park, which sits on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. Milliken says hundreds of rhinos are being killed, with Mozambican offenders often living so lavishly that it’s impossible to mistake the lucrative trade they’re engaged in. Milliken says Mozambicans are crossing the border into South Africa and killing the animals there, as well. They bring the horns back, sell them, and then ship them from airports and seaports to Asia.

But South Africa and conservation groups are no longer tolerating this chain of criminal activity. They made themselves known at a March meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which, says the World Wildlife Fund’s Jenna Bonello, “regulates the trade in animals and animal products,” thereby ensuring “that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” There, CITES officials singled out Mozambique for its lack of action on poaching, and offered solutions to help mobilize the country against it.

According to the Johannesburg Times News, however, one such proposal sounds more like a mandate. The Times reports that after CITES put Mozambique on notice to “amend its legal poaching legislation,” South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister warned Mozambique that her country intended to “re-erect” an 80 kilometer-long-fence along Kruger and Limpopo National Parks if the poaching problem doesn’t stop. Should re-erection happen, Mozambique stands to lose up to R13-million ($1.5 million) in donor money from international aid organizations for its role in maintaining the peace park.

To quell the problem of poaching, meanwhile, head of anti-poaching operations at all South American National Parks, General Johan Jooste, told the Times that the following plans are in place “to improve access control at the park’s entry gates and new security technology is to be introduced.” Plans include “laying cables that pick up vibrations in the ground, and aircraft with highly sensitive surveillance equipment that will be able to see 50 km beyond the borders of the park.”

“Apprehending poachers, and successful prosecutions leading to lengthy jail terms, would serve as a deterrent and would be the most effective measures to protect our wildlife,” Jooste added.

In a statement for this story, the WWF’s Bonello said:

“Trafficking in illegal wildlife and wildlife products has definitely become an international crisis and thankfully has started to get the much-needed attention it deserves. At the beginning of July of this year, President Obama announced a new Executive Order to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. Given this level of effort by governments to stop poaching and public scrutiny in the media of the issue, upholding CITES rules and regulations will be a priority for world governments who have a main stake in contributing to illegal wildlife trade (including both supply and demand countries).”