New York Times
DAKAR, Senegal — Officials in Ivory Coast said Thursday that they had broken up an international ivory-smuggling network, the second announcement of such a bust on the African continent this month.
Law-enforcement officials in Ivory Coast said they had arrested six people and confiscated more than half a ton of ivory, leopard parts and illegal firearms. The loot also contained a half of a ton of pangolin scales.
The pangolin, a mammal sometimes confused with the armadillo, has become one of the most trafficked animals. Demand for its pinecone-ish scales, made of keratin, like fingernails, has soared in China, where they are used in medicines.
The operation was carried out with help from United States officials as well as by the Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement, also known as the Eagle Network, an organization that supports the enforcement of anti-wildlife trafficking laws. A photo distributed by American officials showed dozens of elephant tusks seized in the operation.
The announcement on Thursday followed another bust of ivory trafficking in Africa: Last week, Gabon announced it had broken up a major smuggling network responsible for trading six tons of ivory. Officials said the outfit had ties to a cell of Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has carried out numerous murders, rapes and kidnappings in northern Nigeria and border countries.
In Ivory Coast, officials said the six suspects who were arrested had been operating a syndicate in African and Asian countries for years. The suspects were not identified. The leader of the criminal organization in Ivory Coast has ties to two ivory seizures in Vietnam and Cambodia, according to the Eagle Network.
Smugglers in Ivory Coast hid the ivory in hollowed logs filled with wax and resealed with glue. The logs were included in normal shipments and exported in containers to Asia, according to the Eagle Network. Authorities have discovered the same disguise method in seizures in Kenya and Mozambique.
The Ivorian investigation found calls from the arrested suspects to known tax-haven countries — Switzerland, Turks and Caicos, and Saint Kitts and Nevis — prompting officials to suspect money laundering and “hints at the level of organization in the syndicate’s operations,” the Eagle Network said in a news release about the sting.
The organization said the people arrested might also have been involved in human trafficking. One of the suspects was found with pages listing the identities of young Ivorian women, their photos, height and weight and whether they had been subjected to genital cutting.
The Ivorian government has carried out other operations against wildlife traffickers in past months. Last year officials seized more than 200 pounds of ivory and three tons of pangolin scales, from an estimated 4,000 pangolins. Additionally they found hundreds of carved pieces of ivory, 53 elephant tails, seven leopard skins and other animal parts.
China, one of the biggest markets for ivory, put into effect a ban on the sale of commercial ivory at the end of last year.