Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The Mozambican authorities on Monday incinerated in Maputo over 2.4 tonnes of ivory and rhinoceros horns seized from poaching gangs.In all, 618 elephant tusks (weighing 2.2 tonnes) and 86 rhino horns (weighing 236 kilos) were consigned to the flames. The tusks and horns had been seized in various parts of Mozambique. The largest single seizure occurred on 12 May in the southern city of Matola, where the police raided a house and found 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns. Two Chinese citizens were arrested in connection with this haul of illicit wildlife products.Last year the price of rhino horn was estimated at 60,000 US dollars a kilo – much more than the price of gold or of cocaine. Ivory is cheaper, but its price in China has soared – from about 700 dollars a kilo in 2010 to 2,100 dollars a kilo in 2014. So the ivory and rhino horn seized in Matola had a street value of over 6.3 million dollars.Environmentalists warned that the tusks and horns should be incinerated at once, lest they fall into the wrong hands. These warnings were prophetic – for on 22 May, 12 of the rhino horns were stolen from what was supposedly a secure police warehouse. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the theft, four of them police officers. But the missing horns have not yet been recovered.Since both species of African rhinoceros, the white and the black, are believed to be extinct in southern Mozambique, it is a virtual certainty that the horns seized in Matola came from animals killed in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
.The Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Celso Correia, personally set the pile of tusks and horns ablaze. Speaking to reporters, Correia said that the purpose of the incineration was to discourage poaching.“We followed all the procedures through the Attorney-General’s Office, to confirm exactly the total number of rhino horns”, he said. “With this act, we intend to show the world that our country repudiates poaching and the illegal killing of animals to extract horns and ivory. We’ve had enough of the crime of poaching – that’s the strong position of the government”. Asked about the involvement of police officers in the theft of the 12 missing horns, Correia said “we shouldn’t confuse the police force with individuals. The fact that one group was involved in theft does not diminish our positive appreciation of the good work of the police in seizing this material in the first place”.
Responding to those who believe the government should sell the ivory and horns, Correia declared emphatically that the products of poaching can only be incinerated. “The government does not take part in illicit business”, he said. The coordinator of the United Nations system in Mozambique, Jennifer Topping, was delighted by the decision to incinerate. She stressed that this was a means whereby Mozambique was renewing its determination to fight against environmental crimes. “For us, as the United Nations”, she said, “this act is very important. It’s part of a series of universal measures adopted to discourage poaching. This shows the world that Mozambique is carrying out these measures. Environmental preservation is part of development”.

“Illicit products have no legal economic value”, she added.The representative of Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC), Carlos Lopes Pereira, told the press that all the material sent to the flames was authentic. All the horns and tusks had been duly analysed.This reassurance was necessary because, when the 12 horns were stolen from the Matola warehouse, the thieves tried to replace them with replicas made of cattle horn. “All the products burnt here are 100 per cent real”, declared Lopes Pereira. Pereira noted that poachers have been decimating Mozambique’s elephant herds. The last elephant census, in 2014, showed that the number of elephants in the country fell from just over 20,000 in 2009 to 10,300 in 2014.It takes a long time to burn tonnes of ivory, and the commander of the newly created Natural Resource and Environmental Police Unit, Naftal Machava, guaranteed that the bonfire would be protected until all the material has been reduced to ashes.“Incineration is not very easy”, Machava said, “but our force consists of suitable professionals who will be here for two days, guaranteeing security until everything has been destroyed”.Prominent environmental activist Carlos Serra declared “I think this is a great victory. I always argued that these products should be incinerated, and with this incineration, the government is showing its willingness to fight against poaching”.But Serra urged the government to step up its measures against the poaching gangs “to prevent the remaining animals from running the same risks”. Civil society activists are not taking any chances. They intended to stay overnight with the police, guarding the bonfire. “We shall stay here until it is all no more than ashes”, said Serra.

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