Environmental organisations raise concern over ivory trade after suspects arrested in Ballito (Durban) 


Yogashen Pillay, IOL

Date Published
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Environmental organisations have welcomed the arrest of two suspects found in possession of ivory with a street value of R400 000 in Ballito last week.

It is alleged that the suspects were trying to sell elephant tusks and were arrested after an undercover operation.

KwaZulu-Natal Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said: “The Hawks members from Port Shepstone Serious Organised Crime Investigation, assisted by Crime Intelligence, arrested two suspects aged 27 and 57 for possession and dealing in elephant tusks.

“It is alleged that members received information about suspects who were selling elephant tusks. An undercover operation was conducted at Zimbali Eco Estate and members swooped on the suspects’ residence.”

Mhlongo added that 1.3kg of ivory was recovered.

“Upon searching the premises, members found 1.3 kilogram of ivory pieces, 14 warthog teeth, 19 pieces of sperm whale teeth, four ivory carvings, two hippo teeth, 47 ivory chopsticks and 15 elephant tusks with a street value of approximately R400 000.”

Mhlongo said the two suspects appeared in the KwaDukuza Magistrate’s Court last week and were granted bail of R20 000 each. The case was postponed to March 3, 2022.

Sade Moneron, research officer at Traffic, a non-governmental organisation on wildlife trade in the context of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, said that they were pleased with the suspects’ arrests.

“Traffic has seen the reports by SAPS on the arrests and congratulates law enforcement agencies on the arrest and seizure.

“Traffic does encourage that investigations continue, and should other suspects be identified, that they are arrested and prosecuted accordingly.

“At this stage, there is no word on the sources of this ivory, whether it was sourced from poached elephants in South Africa or elsewhere.

“Traffic will be following the case closely as it develops.”

Audrey Delsink, wildlife director at Humane Society International Africa, said that the recent arrests were cause for concern.

“Within South Africa, domestic trade in new ivory is prohibited, but antique ivory is openly sold by antique dealers, who must be registered to do so.

“Worked ivory pieces such as those recently confiscated often end up in the market as antiques, with few retailers offering proof of age or origin with any ivory item for sale in South Africa.

“There is real cause for concern that South Africa’s antique ivory market, and in fact all such markets, is being used to launder ivory from recently killed elephants.”

Delsink added that according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), South Africa is listed as a Category C country, which means that it is affected by the illegal trade in ivory.

“So long as there are inconsistencies in policies – ie, trade in some products versus others such as antique or new ivory, or domestic trade in some countries but not others – there will be caveats and opportunities for laundering and illegal trade. At roughly 30 000 elephants, South Africa’s national herd of elephants may be small, but every elephant is a target for trade so long as these grey areas exist.”

The Department of Forestry and Fisheries and the Environment, as part of its annual update on rhino poaching, said that it had largely controlled the number of elephants being poached for ivory.

The department recorded 17 elephants being poached in 2020 compared to 31 elephants that were poached in 2019.

Musa Mntambo, communications manager at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said that the arrests appeared to be an isolated incident and that there was no evidence of a problem with elephant poaching in KZN.