An international ivory trafficking ring has been dismantled in Gabon following the arrest of nine people in connection with a huge shipment of elephant tusks heading to Cameroon. The traffickers were arrested with 21 elephant tusks weighing 131kg in a crackdown on the major ivory trafficking ring using hidden compartments in vehicles. They were arrested last month by Gabonese wildlife officials and the police with the support of an EAGLE Network project known by its French acronym as AALF (Appui a l’application de la loi faunique), hosted by the Gabon-based conservation group Conservation Justice.
One of the suspected traffickers, a Gabonese of Cameroonian origin, was intercepted transporting the ivory in a pickup vehicle, sparking off a series of other arrests. He was found with 19 elephant tusks and 4 pieces of ivory weighing 120 kg, which he cleverly concealed in a fitted secret compartment under the tipper of the truck. Also hidden in the car was a sum of close to one million CFA francs. An expired residence permit of a well-known Cameroonian Ivory trafficker who was once arrested in Cameroon was also discovered. He was arrested in October 2020 with 626kg of ivory tusks by Customs officials in Ambam. He was later found guilty of illegal possession and sentenced to only four months in prison.
The traffickers arrested in Gabon are believed to be key players of a well-organized criminal ring operating between Cameroon and Gabon, illegally exporting several tons of ivory to Cameroon over many years. Over a nine-month period, over 25 million francs are suspected to have been traded in ivory transactions worth at least a ton of elephant tusks by the criminal group. A major trafficker who had been sentenced to prison in recent years was also arrested, and four others were arrested with two elephant tusks weighing 11kg. This network, which is estimated to have generated the killing of thousands of elephants, demonstrates that corruption is the main enabler of organized wildlife trafficking. Ofir Drori, the founder of Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE), says, “The seizure of 21 tusks and 4 ivory pieces is a mere snapshot of the regular activities of this vast network operating for many years with representatives and stations spread all over Gabon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon, trafficking ivory between Central and West Africa.
Speaking after the arrest operations, Ofir Drori, explained that “The illegal wildlife trade is routed through corruption. This is a good example of a very criminal network driving elephants to extinction. It has already been caught once and rewarded with a ridiculous sentence, only to continue their illegal activities undisturbed.”
Gabon seems to be setting the standards very high with stiff jail terms and prosecutions. According to Luc Mathot, Executive Director of Conservation Justice, which assisted wildlife officials involved in the arrests, “This type of operation is vital and should be repeated to dismantle the few large ivory trafficking networks that have managed to survive in Gabon, where the political will to protect the environment remains strong. The forest elephant population is estimated at 95,000 and appears to be stable, making it their last big refuge.
But the pressure remains, particularly from Cameroon. Conservation Justice is part of the EAGLE Network, which brings together several conservation groups to assist governments across Africa in effective wildlife law enforcement.