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Poachers increasingly targeting Asian elephants in Myanmar, researchers warn

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Poachers increasingly targeting Asian elephants

Poachers are increasingly targeting Asian elephants in Myanmar, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have warned.

In a paper published this week in PLOS ONE, SCBI scientists note how they first became aware of the growing problem when seven Asian elephants they were tracking as part of a study on elephant movements and human-elephant conflict were killed by poachers.

The results of the study prompted the researchers to conclude that poaching is now the primary threat to wild Asian elephants in Myanmar as opposed to human-elephant conflict, a term which refers to the competition between humans and elephants for habitat and food.

Advising that anti-poaching efforts should now be made a priority in the battle to help preserve the 1,400 to 2,000 wild Asian elephants that remain in Myanmar, Christie Sampson, lead author of the paper and a doctoral student at Clemson University, said: “Poaching has suddenly become a much bigger threat to Asian elephants, especially in Myanmar, than we realised.

“The biggest difference is that elephants in Myanmar are now being targeted for their skin and meat.

“That means there is no discrimination between males, females or calves. And that could potentially have dire consequences for elephants, who reproduce very slowly.”

Poachers have historically only hunted elephants for their ivory, which offered protection to female and juvenile Asian elephants, who do not grow tusks.

Evidence collected by Smithsonian suggests that poachers are now killing Asian elephants for their meat, which is smuggled into China, northern India and Thailand, and sold to residents of villages in Myanmar.

Other elephant parts, including the animals’ feet and skin, are ground into a powder which is used medicinally to treat stomach disorders, or is mixed with elephant fat and applied to skin infections.

Smithsonian scientist John McEvoy said poachers who target Asian elephants in Myanmar appear to be “experienced and well-coordinated”, and equipped with “the butchering skills necessary to skin an elephant”, as well as the means to transport and store elephants parts.

McEvoy, who returned from Myanmar in February, said poachers targeting elephants in the country commonly use poisoned darts while hunting their prey, which slowly kill elephants over the course of several days.

“SCBI has been studying elephants in Myanmar for decades, but this is the first time we have seen poaching of this scale in the country,” said Peter Leimgruber, co-author of the paper and head of the Conservation Ecology Centre at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“The next steps for us will be to continue to track and monitor elephants, while working with our partners and local communities to help stop poaching.”

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Interpol gathers experts in Singapore for conference on wildlife crime

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conference on wildlife crime

Interpol has gathered together scores of representatives from a number of sectors in Singapore for the 30th meeting of the agency’s Wildlife Crime Working Group.

Attended by some 160 experts from law enforcement agencies, representatives from government departments, NGOs, transport and banking firms, academics and social media companies, the conference provided delegates with an opportunity to review the latest environmental threats, trafficking trends and challenges to tackling the criminal networks behind such crimes.

The week-long event, which took place last month, examined how wildlife crime can involve industries beyond those which focus on the environment, with wildlife criminals using transport systems and online platforms to facilitate their activities.

The meeting brought together representatives from each of those sectors for the first time.

They provided other attendees with their perspectives on wildlife crime and spent time building relationships with law enforcement officials.

As well as hearing how wildlife crime has far-reaching consequences for the environment, global economies, communities and societies, delegates debated forestry crime, financial crimes associated with wildlife trafficking, challenges of transnational enforcement and operations, and wildlife crime training efforts.

In a statement, Interpol Assistant Director of Illicit Markets Daoming Zhang said: “We see animals and their parts trafficked using ships and airplanes, sold online via the Darknet and the illicit profits unknowingly passed through financial institutions.

“It is clear that the only way to truly eradicate these crimes and protect the world’s wildlife is through a united effort bringing together all stakeholders to develop multi-sector solutions.”

In a case study, attendees examined Operation Thunderball, a global operation coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) that targeted wildlife traffickers.

The operation, which involved police and border officials from 109 countries, resulted in the recovery of 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusk, five rhino horns and more than 4,300 birds.

Participants at the conference also elected a new Executive Board to guide the Working Group’s activities during the coming years.

Dylan Swain, the new Chair of the Wildlife Crime Working Group, commented: “To continue the momentum of recent years, we need to challenge the thinking about how we fight wildlife crime.

“The opportunity for enforcement agencies to come together with NGOs, civil society and academia enables us to share and develop new approaches to tackling the illegal trade in wildlife.”

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs capable of producing two tonnes of cocaine a month

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs

Police in Spain have teamed up with their counterparts in Colombia to shut down two clandestine cocaine processing facilities said to have been capable of pumping out two tonnes of the drug every month.

One of the factories was located in the Spanish municipality of Casasbuenas in the province of Toledo, while the other was found deep in the Colombian jungle and was controlled by Front 21 of the FARC dissidents.

At the Spanish site, investigators arrested four Colombian nationals who are said to have been brought into the country specifically to turn coca base into high-purity cocaine.

Agents from Spain’s elite Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO) unit also detained an armed individual whose job it was to guard the facility and monitor the work of the four Colombian cocaine “cooks”.

As well as making the arrests, Spanish officers also seized 150kgs of coca base, 7kgs of cocaine that had been processed and was ready for distribution, seven tonnes of chemicals used as precursors for the production of cocaine hydrochloride, a gun and more than €100,000 ($110,744) in cash.

Meanwhile on the Colombian side of the operation, another secret laboratory was raided in the jungle in Tolima that was used for the processing of cocaine base paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

Police in Colombia seized 260 litres of coca base that was being processed, 400kgs of coca leaf, and a large quantity of precursor chemicals.

In total, nine people were arrested in Spain, including the leader of the organisation and his lieutenant, who controlled another centre for the adulteration and cutting of cocaine in the province of Guadalajara.

One of the suspects is reported to have owned a network of front companies that the gang used to import coal from South America that had been impregnated with cocaine.

Once the coal had entered Spain, it would be transferred to processing plants where experts would use special technique to extract the cocaine before preparing it for distribution.

A joint intranational investigation into the gang’s activities was launched in the first few months of this year when authorities in Colombia learned that a Colombian national was plotting to set up a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine hidden in different legal merchandise into Spain before using clandestine factories to extract the drugs and ready them for sale.

Back in May, it was reported that Spanish investigators had broken up a Colombian gang that impregnated cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to Madrid and Toledo for extraction.

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Eastern Europeans easy prey for traffickers despite knowledge of exploitative practices, IOM survey finds

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Eastern Europeans easy prey for traffickers

A poll conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has revealed that Eastern Europeans are easy prey for people smuggling gangs and human traffickers despite having high-level knowledge of organised immigration crime.

The Survey on Migration and Human Trafficking in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Georgia, which was conducted on behalf of the IOM by market research agency Info Sapiens, found that while 86% of Ukrainians are aware of human trafficking, 13% would cross the border irregularly, work without official employment status in exploitive conditions without freedom of movement, or hand over their passport to an employer.

In Georgia, 81% of respondents were found to have a good understanding of human trafficking, with 24% willing to put themselves at risk.

In Belarus, the figures were 85% and 11% respectively, while in Moldova, they were 75% and 17%.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine, said: “IOM is the leading provider of assistance to vulnerable migrants and victims of trafficking in the region, with more than 16,000 trafficking survivors assisted since 2000 in Ukraine.

“The latest survey findings about high levels of irregular employment among migrant workers from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, as well as our empirical knowledge that Ukrainians prefer to look for jobs abroad through informal channels, show the high need for intensified trafficking prevention affords in the region.”

Last month, an operation conducted jointly by police in Spain and Lithuania resulted in the dismantling of a gang that trafficked women for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The leaders of the criminal network, two of whom were arrested in a day of action targeting the gang, were said to have used extreme violence to force their victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Also in November, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were handed prison terms by a Scottish court that totalled more than 36 years after they were convicted of smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland before forcing them to work as prostitutes and enter sham marriages.

Back in October, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić used the annual European Anti-trafficking Day to urge EU member states to ensure victims of human trafficking and modern slavery were able to access justice, including financial compensation, for the abuses they suffer.

Explaining how human traffickers keep their victims in the most appalling of conditions, Burić said: “Traffickers must be rigorously prosecuted and punished, but justice must also be done to the victims of trafficking – by making sure they receive compensation, they are protected from being trafficked again and they are given sufficient help to put their lives back together.”

 

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