US colonel caught smuggling carved ivory from Kenya
Jerome Starkey, The Times
July 24, 2013
The former US defence attaché in Nairobi has been convicted of smuggling thousands of pounds worth of ivory, just hours after President Obama pledged to fight a crisis in illegal wildlife trafficking.
David McNevin was arrested with 21 pieces of ornately carved elephant tusks as he boarded a flight to the Netherlands, from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International airport, according to officials.
Uncarved tusks, which sold for £36 a kilo in 1976, can fetch up to £4000 per kg today, while carved items and antique pieces can cost much more.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said McNevin was seized by a joint security team with five ivory bangles, seven rings, seven pendants and two ornaments, with a total weight of 0.8kg.
He was fined 30,000 Kenyan shillings, or £225, the maximum punishment under Kenya’s outdated wildlife law.
“For us he was a common criminal,” said Paul Udoto, a KWS spokesman.“He didn’t invoke any diplomatic privilege. He was just like any other criminal who owned up to his crime. He pleaded guilty. He paid the fine,” he said.
Conservationists have warned that elephant poaching is at the worst level since 1989, when the international trade in ivory was banned, because of growing demand from China’s middle class.
Dr Richard Leakey, former Director of KWS and the founder of the charity WildlifeDirect, warned yesterday that elephants could be gone from the wild in Kenya by 2023.
“We need to change things urgently,” he said. “Kenya’s wildlife belongs to the citizens of Kenya, who must stand up to defend this heritage.”
David McNevin had retired from the army at the rank of colonel and was working for Atlantean Worldwide, a US-based company which operates in Somalia.
Its directors include the retired Major General William Garrison, who commanded the US Special Forces involved in the Black Hawk Down debacle in Mogadishu in 1993.
McNevin appeared in court on July 1, as President Obama arrived in Tanzania on the final leg of his three-country Africa tour. During his trip, the US President pledged $10 million for a Wildlife Trafficking Taskforce that will include staff from the Department of Defence, National Intelligence and Homeland Security.
“Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife,” Mr Obama said. “The entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”
McNevin could not be reached yesterday. The US Embassy directed enquiries to “the individual in question, the Kenya Wildlife service and the courts.” Four Chinese men arrested in January with £15,000 worth of ivory faced similar fines. The magistrate Timothy Okello called for the law to be changed and complained, “It is considered a petty offence.”
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