Mozambique says it is committed to fighting wildlife crime, especially elephant and rhino poaching. Thousands of elephants were killed in the country between 2009 and 2012. Poachers also use Mozambique as a base for regional criminal activities.
Mozambique has been under growing pressure to take a much tougher stand against poaching. Neighboring South Africa and conservation groups want the government to adhere to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. A CITES meeting earlier this year in Thailand singled-out Mozambique for its lack of action on poaching.
“Mozambique increasingly has become one of the major exit points for both rhino horn and elephant ivory. We’re facing a crisis for both species. And, in particular, the Vietnamese syndicates that are behind the rhino horn trade – it’s very clear with the improved law enforcement effort being made in South Africa that they’ve moved next door to Mozambique,” said Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino coordinator for TRAFFIC International, a wildlife trade monitoring network.
He said that action taken by Mozambique will have a direct effect on South Africa.
“Mozambique nationals are heavily involved in the poaching of rhinos in Kruger National Park, which is the premier wildlife site in South Africa. Hundreds of rhinos are being killed in that park and mostly by Mozambican nationals, who are crossing over the border killing the animals -- bringing the horns back --selling them to the Vietnamese syndicates behind the trade. And then the horns are leaving for Asia out of airports and seaports from Mozambique.”
But poachers have taken a big toll within Mozambique itself.
“Mozambique’s largest elephant population is in the north of the country along the Ravuma River in a place called the Niassa Game Reserve. This is the largest population hey have and it’s a shared population with Tanzania. But we think just in the last three years or so about 2,500 elephants have probably been killed. I recently saw mortality data of carcasses that have been found. And we’re sometimes seeing family groups of six to eight elephants all gunned down at the same time,” he said.
It’s unclear how much money poachers get for a rhino horn or elephant tusk, but Milliken said you can get a pretty good idea.
“Some of the poachers who go into Kruger National Park from Mozambique – they’re the only people in their village that have houses with a solid foundation and sometimes they even drive Toyota Land Cruisers. So, it’s hugely lucrative for some individuals; and unfortunately, even though they’re criminals, they become the role models for the youth in that society because they’re so economically successful,” he said.
Mozambique is now reviewing its penal code to eventually make poaching a criminal offense that carries stiff penalties.
Milliken said, “We also rolled out identification materials in the Portuguese language. Getting customs officials and other people at the border crossings to accurately identify some of these products is really important. And up until now there haven’t been any materials in the Portuguese language.”
Mozambique must also submit a series of progress reports to the CITES Secretariat by next January. Representatives from TRAFFIC International, the World Wildlife Fund and others met recently with country officials to jump start the process.
Concerns over poaching go beyond Mozambique’s wildlife. Milliken said it can harm the country’s national security.
“So many of these criminal syndicates that are driving the rhino horn and ivory trades are Asian nationals, who are operating from bases within African countries. And if they’re operating successfully, it also means that they’re expanding their activities. They’re becoming more entrenched. Organized crime is not shy about using corruption or intimidation to get what they want. And so all of this is unfolding in these countries.”
He said the same crime syndicates involved in poaching may also be involved in drugs and human trafficking.