Latest seizures indicate extent of criminal involvement in ivory trade


THREE MAJOR ivory seizures this month “provide further insight into the markets being targeted by organized crime syndicates smuggling elephant ivory from Africa to Asia”, according to Traffic International, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

One of the largest recent seizures – a “staggering” 707 tusks, 32 ivory bracelets and a rhino horn – was made during a routine inspection of a large truck at tollbooths on a highway in Guangxi, China, just a few kilometres from the border with Vietnam.

On April 1st, 247 elephant tusks were seized by customs officers in Thailand, concealed in a consignment of frozen fish from Kenya. And this week, Vietnamese police confiscated another 122 ivory tusks from a warehouse in Mong Cai, near the Chinese border.

“The enforcement authorities ... are to be congratulated for making these interdictions, but the tusks attest to the poaching of more than 500 elephants, which is a major conservation concern,” according to Tom Milliken, Traffic’s expert on illicit ivory trading.

“This pattern of seizures helps corroborate our suspicions that Thailand and China remain the primary end-use destinations for large quantities of ivory being smuggled out of Africa, with Vietnam now serving as the leading conduit for trade into China,” he added.

Mr Milliken leads work on elephant and rhino trade and manages the Elephant Trade Information System for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES.

The information system is the world’s largest database of elephant product seizure records. The most recent analysis listed Thailand, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo as the three countries most heavily implicated in the illicit trade.

Traffic sounded an alarm when it discovered a “seriously escalating illegal ivory trade” from 2004 to 2009. Since 2009, however, there has been almost no respite as China, Thailand and Vietnam have seized nearly 20 tonnes of elephant ivory – not counting the latest hauls.

“Sophisticated criminal networks are utilising every means available – road, sea and air – to smuggle their contraband from African source countries to lucrative markets in Asia, often via circuitous routes to avoid detection,” Mr Milliken said.

“While major seizures, arrests and prosecutions are certainly deterrents to these smuggling operations, the only long-term solution to curtail elephant poaching has to be to reduce the demand for illegally sourced ivory to negligible levels.”