Pirates and poaching in East Africa
Ian Michler

A recent report on Transnational Organized Crime in East Africa confirms the shocking statistics pertaining to the elephant poaching crisis in Tanzania and Kenya.  Produced by the United Nations, the report quotes data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) showing that these two countries account for 64% of Africa’s ivory trade. In comparison, Southern Africa accounts for 10%.

The report says Tanzania has been the hardest hit with the country having lost at least 33% of its elephant herd in the last 10 years. In turn, the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania’s largest protected area has borne the brunt of this losing close to 50% of its population. The Selous statistic alone would mean that over 31 000 elephants have been poached from this reserve, a staggering number in such a short period of time. The report concludes that currently, as many as 15 400 elephants are being poached in East Africa annually, producing as much as 154 metric tons of illegal ivory. At least two-thirds of this is destined for Asian markets.

Other key findings point to the integrated nature of criminal activities with the region also being a hub for the drugs trade, heroin especially, and the illegal trafficking of humans.

Of particular interest though was the input on piracy along the regions coast. In 2011, Somali pirates earned themselves in the region of US$150million, the equivalent of about 15% of that country’s GDP by holding large ships to ransom. But since then, law enforcement measures have been hugely successful – so much so that in the first six months of 2013 there has not been a single ransom paid to the pirates. Looking ahead, this success could have a number of consequences. Given the history of Somali poaching in Kenya, stopping any ransom money reaching the pirates could see them returning to Kenya and other elephant hotspots in search of ivory to replace their lost income. However, on the positive side, if combined law enforcement efforts can lick piracy, then why should they not turn their attentions to dealing with the rampant poaching? Don’t bet against both happening.