- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

NAIROBI, Kenya (Agence France-Presse) Five men found carrying 33 elephant tusks in northern Kenya this week were charged yesterday with illegally possessing prohibited wildlife trophies, officials said.

One of the five pleaded guilty and was remanded in custody to await sentencing, while the other four denied the charge and were released on bail equivalent to about $800 each, a Kenya Wildlife Service official told Agence France-Presse. Those who pleaded not guilty must appear in court March 21, said the official, who asked not to be named.

A wildlife service anti-poaching unit intercepted a Toyota Land Cruiser in Marsabit district, near Kenya's border with Ethiopia. It was carrying 33 ivory tusks weighing 772 pounds and some giraffe meat, the wildlife service said. Trade in ivory is banned under a treaty of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

But a CITES meeting in Santiago, Chile, in November allowed Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to sell off about 60 tons of their ivory stockpiles, to the dismay of Kenya, which fears the decision will lead to increased elephant poaching.

"The seizure of ivory underscores the dangers of reopening international ivory trade and lifting the ban on such trade," Kenyan Environment and Natural Resources Minister Newton Kulundu told a press conference in Nairobi this week. The tusks seized in the Marsabit district were displayed at the conference. It was the biggest haul of illegal ivory by the Kenya Wildlife Service since 2000.

"It confirms our fears that the decision taken by CITES sends out signals to poachers, dealers, traders and everyone involved in the illegal trade that the markets have reopened, and we will see an increase in poaching and trafficking of ivory," Mr. Kulundu said.

He said the "presence of arms in neighboring countries has increased poaching in Kenya and now threatens to wipe out the remaining 27,000 elephants."

The elephant tusks seized this week were en route to tourist markets in Ethiopia, and to Egypt and some Asian countries, Paula Kahumbu, the CITES coordinator with the wildlife service, told AFP.

"We maintain our belief that the decision taken in Santiago was premature and that although the countries concerned are at the end of the continent we are losing elephants as a direct result," Kenya Wildlife Service Director Michael Wamithi said in a statement.

Mr. Wamithi said the wildlife service will intensify security operations using the latest technology, enhance cooperation with neighboring countries to hunt poachers and lobby for tough anti-poaching legislation.

"Kenya will seek in the next CITES meeting to define the terms of ivory trade and market routes and also ensure that countries that have lost elephants because of ivory do not play consumers to [ivory] end products," Miss Kahumbu said.

"Japan, China and other Asian nations are the largest ivory markets, and they should take responsibility for the death of elephants," she added.

According to Miss Kahumbu, the Kenya Wildlife Service has impounded 27 tons of ivory seized since 1989. It will be donated to nongovernmental organizations to give to museums around the world to support wildlife conservation.

The wildlife service maintains that the CITES decision has endangered elephants in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the pachyderms are heavily poached.

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