259 ivory tusks were seized by UAE Ministry of Environment and Water earlier this week. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: Interpol sent a strong signal on Wednesday to organised crime that it is stepping up efforts to stem illegal ivory trade shipments — such as the consignment of 259 elephant tusks intercepted earlier this week at Jebel Ali Port by Dubai Customs.

Interpol environmental crime officials and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) inked an agreement in Paris on Wednesday to end the mass slaughter of elephants for ivory by poachers who are making a killing in the rush for new white gold.

Estimates by IFAW suggest up to 50,000 elephants were slaughtered last year despite a 1990 ban on all international trade in ivory.

With only an estimated 500,000 African elephants on average and a further 52,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, the taking of roughly ten per cent of the world’s remaining elephant population every year is not sustainable, say experts.

And with prices of more than $100 (Dh367) per kilogram for ivory in African black markets ballooning ten-fold when shipped to underworld markets in China and Thailand, the demand is not likely to wane, say authorities.

“This agreement with IFAW will provide further momentum to efforts worldwide in identifying and dismantling the criminal organisations engaged in wildlife trafficking,” said Interpol’s Executive Director of Police Services, Jean-Michel Louboutin.

“Criminal organisations engaged in wildlife trafficking have no respect for our environment and no regard for borders, conducting their illicit activities wherever there is the most profit to be made.”

Azzedine Downes, IFAW CEO and President, in a statement, said: “International organised criminal syndicates are wiping out the world’s animals. NGOs, law enforcement agencies and governments have to become equally organised, determined and equipped in dealing with this emerging and growing threat which impact species conservation.”

Given Dubai’s unique geographic location as a transport hub between east and west, the United Nations has listed Dubai as a “major transit point or area” along the ivory supply route.

In the UAE, authorities are meeting the call for better enforcement as evidenced by the major seizure this week by the Ministry of Environment and Water of illegal ivory. In November of last year, 214 elephants tusks valued at more than $4 million were seized by Dubai Customs.

The latest Dubai seizure comes only days after Dubai Police started a new campaign with IFAW to intercept and block as many ivory shipments as possible.

“Tackling the global problem of wildlife crime cannot be done by any one country or organisation, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with IFAW to provide additional support to the police and other enforcers in the field,” said Louboutin.

Dr Elsayed Ahmad Mohammad, IFAW Director Middle East and North Africa, told Gulf News on Wednesday that he was grateful for Dubai authorities’ concerted efforts to crack down on ivory shipments noting that every halted shipment makes a small dent in “the active ivory market in the Far East. We are very happy with the UAE and Dubai authorities’ efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade.”

According to a new 2013 UN Report, Elephants in the Dust, The African Elephant Crisis, investigation says Kenya and Tanzania are the top sources of ivory shipments to the two major destinations of China and Thailand.

Ivory trade, stated the report, is “now roughly three times greater than in 1998.”

“Organised syndicates ship several tonnes of ivory at a time to markets in Asia, and hundreds of elephants are killed for every container sent. Indeed, this report documents nearly a tripling in the number of large-scale ivory seizures by customs authorities, revealing the scale and heavy involvement of international criminal networks that must be addressed,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, in the report.

Among the UN report’s recommendations for countries, are suggestions to “strengthen anti-smuggling operations, customs controls and container search programmes (including the controls of small airstrips, and boats in ports and estuaries). Enhance and improve the use of controlled deliveries and forensic analysis to identify the source of ivory and support the investigations of the criminal networks operating along the entire illegal ivory supply.”