Most of us have become accustomed to the ubiquitous metal detectors, pat-downs and scanners we encounter while passing through airports. International travel — with all the anxiety and fear surrounding the threat of terrorism — has become particularly onerous.
Even aside from anti-terrorism measures, concerns about contraband have seemed to focus on the smuggling of illegal drugs across international borders. But it turns out there’s another lucrative trade that U.S. government officials have worked diligently to thwart.
In November 2009, Tamba Kaba was arrested for smuggling African Elephant ivory into the U.S. via JFK International Airport, following a joint investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Northeast Region and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Homeland Security Investigations New York. He was sentenced yesterday to 33 months in prison and a $25,000 fine, the USFWS reports.
According to the USFWS press statement, Kaba imported two air cargo shipments containing 71 elephant ivory carvings, hiding them in wood and metal handicrafts to avoid detection. The importation of ivory into the U.S. has been illegal since 1975, when the nation became a party to the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The African Elephant is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Investigations such as these are bittersweet in the realm of wildlife conservation and the protection of endangered species. On one hand, it’s encouraging to see that the U.S. is taking an active role in prosecuting poachers and smugglers. On the other hand, the very fact that illegal poaching and smuggling are thriving industries in the international black market certainly draws the ire of many.
Even more discouraging is the lack of action taken by foreign governments — mainly in Africa and Asia — to end the poaching of endangered and threatened species. It is my hope that more cooperation among nations to address the issue — such as the recent International Tiger Conservation Forum — will take place and that we can end poaching and animal trafficking for good.