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Unprecedented jail term for Chinese ivory trafficker

15 August 2011

Categories: Homepage News, Elephants Campaign News, CITES News

Chinese Ivory Trafficker given 4 years in Jail by Congo Court

On August 10, 2011 a landmark court ruling was passed in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo against a Chinese national who was arrested in the country’s airport attempting to traffic large quantities of elephant ivory in January of this year. The ivory trafficker was about to board a Kenya Airways flight en route to Beijing when wildlife law enforcement officials noticed an unusual bag he was carrying and proceeded to arrest him.  The Brazzaville high court sentence was passed this week, sentencing the Chinese national to an unprecedented imprisonment term of 4 years.

The 35 year old man was caught attempting to smuggle 5 large elephant tusks, 80 ivory chopsticks, Hankos (traditional name seals), 3 ivory carvings and many small ivory items to China. He attempted to conceal the contraband by wrapping it with metal sheets. The arrest was carried out by the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Forest Economy and the Environment with support from the Gendarmerie and technical assistance from PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna), a wildlife law enforcement project pushing for arrests and prosecutions of wildlife criminals in Congo. "We are committed to help the government of Congo send a zero tolerance message to ivory traffickers" said Naftali Honig, PALF Coordinator, "and as you can see this message is in action."

This is a high point for wildlife law enforcement in the Central African sub-region and an important step in the fight against illegal ivory trade across the African continent, which has seen a rapid increase in the illegal trade in recent years. Several law enforcement NGOs are operating in a network, with an innovative approach of fighting corruption to get the wildlife law applied in the rainforests of Central Africa where there is still much wildlife to save.  Ofir Drori, founder of LAGA and coordinator of the regional network, calls for action, saying, "We should not relent. We need to follow this model and directly confront the flaws in the enforcement process, across Central Africa and beyond, to other countries that still do not have a single wildlife prosecution to be proud of after all these years."

Allegations against Chinese implication in the illegal trade in ivory in the continent are being proved correct with frequent arrests of Chinese involved in illegal trade. A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) states that “China’s demand for ivory is directly responsible for the renewed poaching crisis facing many African elephant populations”. Some recent estimates from wildlife experts describe the African elephant crisis in dire numbers and say about 100 elephants are killed each day in the continent. 

The Central African nation Chad now has an estimated elephant population of 400, down from 15,000 in 1979. Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo have seen vast reductions in recent years. Gabon and Congo are among the last major strongholds for forest elephants and are both being hammered by the ivory trade.

The landmark prosecution comes a few days ahead of the Standing Committee meeting of CITES (UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in Geneva deliberating on wildlife crime and ivory trade, among other issues. The CITES Secretariat rated China in 2005 as “the single most important influence on the increasing trend in illegal trade in ivory since 1995”. Before the CITES elephant ban in 1989, ivory trade oversaw the reduction of the population of African elephants from 1.3 million to just 600,000.

Today we are again seeing a surge in poaching. Recent economic growth in China is thought to be a major reason behind the huge demand in China. Much new wealth exists in China and alongside this come lavish tastes and people looking for items which will represent this new wealth. Among these status symbols are ivory products. These include chop sticks, hair pins, statuettes, traditional names seals, etc. To display their riches, these newly rich stop at nothing to get products from illegal ivory to show off their wealth.

“We are still a long way away from protecting Africa’s elephants from irreverent trafficking networks dependent on weak enforcement” adds Honig, “but a sentence like this is a morsel of hope if its merit can be conveyed to policy makers and its seriousness communicated to illegal traffickers.”

Follow our Will Travers' blog from the Standing Committee in Geneva

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