Reports began to emerge yesterday morning of a major blood ivory haul found in Mombasa’s Tudor estate and one of the suspects being taken into custody, setting the social media alight once again with both congratulations to the Kenyan police and other security organizations involved in the raid and the expression of sheer horror that at least 150 elephant had been slaughtered over the growing greed for the so called “white gold.”
During a swiftly organized media briefing, reporters were then told that the ivory – 228 tusks and 74 pieces cut to the size to facilitate packing – was in the process of being prepared for shipment, with a range of related materials and documents found on site. A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officer suggested that some of the ivory could have come as far as from the Eastern Congo as the ivory showed different colors, and a detailed DNA analysis will help to identify the origin of the entire haul. The media briefing also confirmed that the suspect in custody had attempted to bribe the arresting officers with 5 million Kenya shillings, the equivalent of nearly US$57,000, but the officers turned the bribe down and slapped the cuffs on the man as he was formally arrested. He is due to be arraigned in court in the morning, and demands across Kenya are growing to grant no bail under any circumstances to avoid any potential interference with witnesses, material evidence, or disappear outright.
In 2013, joint KWS and security operations seized nearly 14 tons of blood ivory, much of it in transit from outside Kenya and coming from as far as Southern Sudan and Eastern Congo.
The newly-inaugurated wildlife law now foresees fines of up to 20 million Kenya shillings, equivalent to nearly US$235,000 and a potential life sentence in prison. Enforcement though has been weak and while over 200 suspected poachers and traders have been arrested this year already, many have been set free on laughable amounts of bond granted by magistrates. Conservationists have demanded that such rulings be appealed and the magistrates investigated for potential corruption, indicating that the judiciary has some way to go to use the new law to the fullest extent, especially as some very lenient sentences have been passed on poachers letting them literally go scot free with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
The ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam were named last year by international law enforcement agencies as key transit points for blood ivory, and while much has been done vis-a-vis cargo screening and the use of sniffer dogs, clearly that is not enough as yet to prevent the two main East African harbors from being used for future attempts to smuggle blood ivory out of the country. In contrast, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has gained a reputation as one of the best avoided by ivory smugglers as regular arrests of in particular transit passengers carrying concealed ivory in their baggage, are reported from Nairobi. Congratulations to Kenya’s law enforcement and KWS for the seizure of that much ivory, a timely reminder that the battle against poaching needs to be boosted across the region with security agencies being facilitated with new equipment and better funding.