Kenyan Port Officials Seize Madagascar Rosewood Worth US$12 Million, Says EIA

Spotlight now on Zanzibar and China

May 27, 2014, 17:00 ET from Environmental Investigation Agency

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Kenyan authorities seized 34 containers of illegally-sourced rosewood from Madagascar at the port of Mombasa yesterday, the largest ever recorded seizure of its kind. Information obtained by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and shared with Kenyan Wildlife Service indicates that the containers carrying the illicit logs, stolen from Madagascar's unique forests, were loaded in Zanzibar, and were destined for transport to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, rosewood is commonly smuggled into mainland China, and transformed into luxury furniture. EIA estimates that this seizure consists of around 4,400 logs weighing over 500 tons. At a current value of US$25,000 per ton, this seizure would be worth around US$12.8 million on Chinese markets.

Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said, "The ongoing crisis of illegal logging in Madagascar is wreaking havoc on the country's extraordinary biodiversity, and its hopes for sustainable development. We congratulate Kenyan authorities for taking decisive action to protect the valuable forests of Madagascar. Now Zanzibar, which has emerged as a key smuggling route, must clamp down on this illicit trade or risk fueling this ongoing crisis."

Von Bismarck continued, "Countries around the world are taking action to stop imports of illegal wood. In 2012, U.S. authorities fined the U.S. guitar maker Gibson Guitars for importing ebony and other wood illegally sourced from Madagascar."

He added that "China's demand for luxury rosewood furniture is driving the global crisis of illegal rosewood logging. As the final destination for the vast majority of rosewood, China bears a particular responsibility and must close its markets to illicit timber before magnificent forests are destroyed and these precious species are wiped out entirely."

Madagascar rosewoods (Dalbergia spp.) have been illegal to cut, trade, or export since March 2012. However, ongoing shipments and on-the-ground reports indicate a dramatic escalation in rosewood smuggling from Madagascar's shores over the last nine months. In February, 2014, the new president of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, declared "war" on the illegal smuggling of rosewood. However, since then, only limited actions have been taken, and to date, not a single "timber baron" has been sanctioned for illegal activities.

By tracking smuggled rosewood logs through various transit countries used by traders to obscure the illicit origins of their cargo, international efforts are beginning to crack down on the illegal rosewood trade. In February 2014, customs officials in Zanzibar, in cooperation with CITES authorities, seized six containers of rosewood with 781 logs illegally smuggled from Madagascar, although they failed to seize an additional 2,000 logs present at the time. News reports indicate that Zanzibar has become a primary node for the transit of Malagasy rosewood logs, which arrive in small, open vessels, and are then loaded into containers for transit to Asia.

On April 2, 2014, Sri Lankan customs officials seized 420 tons of rosewood (3,669 logs) with an estimated total value of US$7.6 million. According to EIA analysis of shipping records, the containers seized by Sri Lankan authorities were originally loaded in Zanzibar at the beginning of March and destined for Hong Kong.  In recent years, both Hong Kong and Zanzibar have grown has hubs in the international smuggling of CITES-listed rosewood species, in particular from Madagascar.

For more information on the international rosewood smuggling crisis driven by Chinese demand for luxury rosewood items, please see EIA's report "Routes of Extinction: The corruption and violence destroying Siamese rosewood in the Mekong."

Kate Horner, +1 360 319 9444,

SOURCE Environmental Investigation Agency