Maputo — 266 elephant tusks, weighing six tonnes, have been stolen from the safe of Mozambique’s National Directorate of Land and Forests (DNTF), an institution subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture, according to a report in the latest issue of the independent weekly “Savana”.
The DNTF director, Dinis Lissave, confirmed the theft, which took place on 28 February, but declined to give any further details in order not to compromise police investigations.
The seventh precinct of the Maputo police command was notified of the theft on 29 February and since then a brigade of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC) has been working on the case.
Other sources in the Ministry of Agriculture say that the stolen tusks were part of seven tonnes of ivory collected across the country between 2004 and 2011 and deposited at the DNTF. Some of the tusks were seized from poachers, and others came from elephants killed legitimately. The government allows “problem” elephants, considered to be endangering peasant communities, to be shot. In 2011, 46 “problem elephants” were shot, and their tusks deposited with the DNTF.
The paper’s sources say that the thieves targeted the most valuable tusks – those measuring between 1.2 and 1.5 metres. They did not bother with smaller tusks. Nor did they touch the 12 rhinoceros horns also held at the DNTF.
The thieves managed to steal the tusks, even though the DNTF safe is supposed to be guarded by a private security company and surveillance cameras 24 hours a day. The sources claim that the police have not questioned the security guards who were on duty, or even asked to view the camera tapes. Only mid-level officials have been questioned and nobody has been detained.
The sale of elephant tusks is banned under the United Nations Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but there is a thriving black market. Buyers for ivory are found mostly in Asia, and sources in the DNTF told “Savana” that the stolen tusks could be sold for around five million US dollars in China.