Four Ivory Smugglers Arrested with 44 Elephant Tusks in Cameroon

African elephants continue to fall victim to the Chinese demand for ivory, as 44 tusks were reportedly seized near Lobéké National Park in Southeast Cameroon.

Four people, including a “businessman” who is believed to have arranged the deal, were arrested after the tusks were found in a truck transporting cocoa.

WWF’s project manager in Lobéké, Nzooh Zacharie, noted that a similar incident occurred in February 2011.

This is the second time this year that a large amount of ivory tusks has been discovered on trucks transporting cocoa.

In February a truck transporting 300 bags of cocoa and 20 ivory tusks was impounded in Ntam, southwest of Nki National Park.

Although arrests were made in the February case, the traffickers were sentenced to only six months in jail, with one skipping bail and remaining at large.

David Hoyle, WWF Cameroon Conservation Director, explains that light sentences are not sufficient to stop criminal networks from killing elephants and smuggling ivory.

We believe ivory trafficking would be significantly reduced if Cameroon’s judiciary applies sanctions as laid down by the law.

The soft sentences so far handed out to poachers by the courts have not helped the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife’s efforts to deter poachers.

According to WWF, around 100 elephant tusks have been seized from traffickers around Lobéké and Nki parks, and 65 people have been arrested for elephant-related crimes in Cameroon this year.

Ivory smuggling via Southeast Asia

Meanwhile, hundreds of African elephant tusks were confiscated less than a week ago in Port Klang, Malaysia.

The shipment was destined for Cambodia and originated from Mombasa, Kenya.

Chinese demand for ivory

China’s economic boom, combined with the appetite-whetting CITES-sanctioned ivory auction in 2008, has been disastrous for elephants.

An investigative report in the August 2011 issue of Vanity Fair revealed that tens of thousands of African elephants are being slaughtered each year to feed China’s seemingly inescapable demand for ivory.

The elephant crisis is compounded by a growing Chinese population on the African continent, which has put the demand dangerously close to the supply.

In the last decade the number of Chinese residents in Africa has grown from 70,000 to more than a million. China’s trade on the continent—$114 billion last year—is expected to keep increasing by over 40 percent a year.

International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Asia Regional Director, Grace Ge Gabriel writes that most arrests for ivory smuggling involve Chinese citizens.

The phenomenal economic growth in China has created a middle class with disposable income and ability to globe trot. Chinese travelers caught smuggling contraband ivory across international borders far outweigh any other nationality.

Read Vanity Fair‘s “Agony and Ivory” here.

Download the report Timeline of China and the (Illegal) Ivory Trade 2008 – 2011 (pdf).

Photo #1: Three African elephants via Shutterstock. Photo #2: Elephants in the water via Shutterstock

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