Ivory Trafficker arrested in Douala

Seized ivory

A39-year- old man was arrested on June 18, 2015 by wildlife officials from the Littoral Regional Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife as he attempted to sell 44 carved ivory pieces to a client in Douala. The suspected trafficker was accompanied by another young man. They had a plastic bag containing the ivory pieces. As the arresting team approached, the young man attempted to flee but was quickly stopped in his tracks. Apparently, the two were waiting for a client before their arrest by the team working in collaboration with the gendarmerie and with technical assistance from The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA).

It was later revealed he had photos and images of the collection of ivory products he was about to sell in his phone. It was reported that he is an artifacts dealer and investigations show that one of the tactics he frequently use is to paint ivory tusks and products as wood before selling. This is to disguise the ivory for easy smuggling through the borders. Sources close to the case say the day before the arrest, he seemed to have made contact with a client and arrangements had been made for the transaction which was swiftly stopped before execution.

Douala is generally considered to be a port of exit for smuggled ivory. The ivory is sourced from deep inside the country and from other neighouring countries in the sub-region and smuggled out of the port city to West Africa and far off countries such as China and Vietnam where it fetches huge prices. Wildlife law enforcement experts believe many illegal transactions and ivory go under the noses of wildlife officials in Douala and the traffickers seem to understand the dangers of such an illegal business; they are always very careful to avoid arrest. This may explain why the ivory trafficker brought along a young man who was not up to 18 years old to escape responsibility but failed to recognize the fact that wildlife officials are used to carrying such arrest and quickly understood the ploy to divert attention.

The ploy by the trafficker demonstrates the sophistication of wildlife trafficking as wildlife specialists and experts who met in several meetings and debate forums in Yaounde from the 15th to the 19th of June 2015 to discuss these issues would readily agree. Dr. Paulinus Ngeh, The Regional Director of TRAFFIC participated during one of the meetings whose objective was to provide solutions on redressing the flailing Organisation of Wildlife Conservation in Africa – OCFSA that has the responsibility of fighting trafficking and poaching in the sub-region and he declared “It [wildlife trafficking] is a serious problem because of the sophistication and complexity of the highly organized way which the traffickers operate. Wildlife trafficking has 3 main chains; there is the poaching – which is the sourcing of the wildlife, there is the trafficking and there is the consumption”.

The first two parts of the trafficking chain as described by Dr. Paulinus Ngeh, occurs mainly in Africa , providing the sources and the middle level trafficking, reaping small profits compared to the huge illegal gains that traffickers in Asian and Western countries make. The problem is, Africa is losing its elephant populations while basically not benefitting anything from it. A recent report published by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) say that the African forest elephant population has plummeted by 62% within the period 2002 to 2011. Ivory is the main reason why poachers are killing even more and more elephants and equally explains why scores of wildlife specialists and government officials converged at the Yaounde Conference center. Hopefully, decisions and resolutions taken would resolve this persistent problem of dwindling populations of wildlife all over the continent.

Eric Kaba

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