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In the span of one week there were four ivory smuggling busts at Kenya’s main Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
So what changed? Trained dogs deployed at the airport which is a key regional hub led the authorities to the ivory that was hidden in luggage.
Trained by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and part of Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS’s) Canine Detection Unit, the dogs and their handlers found smuggled ivory in the luggage of four passengers, all traveling to China.
Three of those arrested were en route to Guangzhou, where the Chinese government destroyed six tonnes of confiscated ivory last year. According to AWF, at least two of the travellers were transiting through Kenya from Ghana and Mozambique.
“Four ivory busts in one week is ridiculous,” said Dr Philip Muruthi, vice president of species protection for the African Wildlife Foundation. “This should put all travellers attempting to smuggle wildlife products from Africa on alert. We are working toward zero tolerance for wildlife trafficking.”
Most of the seized ivory had already been fashioned into necklaces, bangles, rings and other ornaments, and in some cases had been stuffed into empty cigarette boxes. An impala skin was also seized.
Last July, seven KWS rangers and six rangers from Tanzania’s Wildlife Division graduated from AWF’s Conservation Canine Programme following two months of intensive training.
They worked alongside specially trained dogs to detect ivory hidden in luggage, shipping containers and vehicles. The Kenyan canine teams were deployed to airports in Nairobi and Mombasa, and it was one of these units that detected the ivory in last week’s busts.
“These busts are the clearest demonstration that the detection dogs are effective in finding smuggled ivory,” said Will Powell, African Wildlife Foundation’s Conservation Canine Director.
“It’s a testament to how well trained these dogs and their handlers are that they were able to detect such small amounts of ivory tucked away in luggage.”
In Tanzania, a detection dog team has been deployed to the port in Dar es Salaam, one of the primary exit points for illicit ivory, and a team has already been deployed to Julius Nyerere International Airport.
Much of the illegal ivory smuggled from Africa ends up in China and Hong Kong, two of the largest ivory markets in the world. Last week Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged to ban ivory trade in the special administrative region.
Last September, during a state visit to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping also vowed to ban ivory trade in his country during a joint address with US President Barack Obama. The issue was for the first time also discussed at the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation in December.
The commitments come as some elephant populations in Africa are declining sharply due to poaching, which is fuelled by the demand for ivory in Asia and other regions.