A thriving market for ivory in Japan and China has created a loophole for an international syndicate of poachers to trade in elephant tusks, posing regulatory challenges for authorities in transit countries like Kenya.
The revised United Nations convention on endangered species allows Japan and China to buy ivory from a number of South African countries under tightly controlled contracts as a compromise after failure of last year's campaign for blanket lifting of trade in ivory.
"It is not possible for a single country located at the transit point to curb the flow of ivory as long as huge demand exists in some markets," said Wambui Namu, Commissioner for Custom services at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).
International air and sea ports of Mombasa, Johannesburg, and Addis Ababa have lately witnessed high profile seizures of illegal ivory as shrewd merchants try to make their way to the Asian markets.
Yesterday, KRA announced the seizure of a container carrying elephant tusks worth Sh116.4 million ($1.3 million) by Malaysian custom authorities, just days after issuing an international alert on the consignment.
Ms Namu said the container -- which was destined to Cambodia -- had slipped through Mombasa port.
It was later found that the owner of the consignment was at the centre of another cargo of 87 elephant tusks impounded at a Nairobi inland container deport last month.
profiling led to yet another interdiction of 465 elephant tusks at Mombasa port early this month," Ms Namu told journalists yesterday. At least 37 African countries protect elephants.
KRA officials said most of the tusks that have been impounded in the country were on transit from other African countries.
Last year, Kenya successfully rallied the global community to retain a partial ban on ivory trade against strong opposition from members of the South African Development Community including Tanzania that wanted the ban lifted.
"The increased seizure of ivory in the past few months confirms that last year's clamour for open trade in ivory succeeded in sending wrong signals to poachers that there was huge demand for elephant and rhino products," said Mr Paul Udoto, the communications manager at Kenya Wildlife Service.
Under the compromise deal struck in Qatar last year, members of the international community relaxed restrictions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to allow only Japan and China to procure for their industries.