7 African Wildlife Trafficking Bust Stories from 2016

In January, we highlighted a selection of success stories from 2016 from one of our main partners in Africa, the EAGLE Network. The EAGLE Network (Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement) is spearheading the fight against wildlife crime and corruption in a growing number of countries across Africa. The model for the EAGLE Network first took shape in Cameroon in 2003. At the time, there were virtually no arrests for wildlife crime across Central and West Africa. Since then, the EAGLE Network's efforts have shifted the baseline from zero prosecutions to the arrest of one major wildlife trafficker per week. Today, the EAGLE Network is active in ten countries across Africa, with more than 1,000 significant wildlife traffickers jailed to date. Read more about the EAGLE Network's operations across Africa and find out how this ties into our larger strategy to combat wildlife trafficking in Central Africa.

Elephant ivory and pangolin scales seized in Cameroon. Credit: LAGA / EAGLE Network
1. Ivory and Pangolin Scale Trafficker Caught in Cameroon

With the help of the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), a significant Nigerian ivory trafficker was arrested in Cameroon with 12 elephant ivory tusks and five bags of pangolin scales weighing over 200 kg. The trafficker, who used the cover of a businessman dealing in spare car parts, had a storeroom where he could keep huge quantities of wildlife products. He ran his illegal activity across the Central African sub region, from Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and Cameroon to Nigeria. His clients included Chinese wildlife traffickers.

Central Africa's elephants declined by 62 percent between 2002 and 2011. We know less about pangolins, but they are thought to be among the most trafficked mammals in the world. The pangolin scales seized in this case may represent more than 50 giant ground pangolins, a species protected by law in Cameroon. For more information on pangolins, please visit our pangolin webpage. Read more about LAGA on the EAGLE Network's website. To share this story, or join the conversation about this case on Facebook, click here.

Left: $40,000 in counterfeit $100 bills and a police-issued handgun. Right: Three people involved in cross-border trafficking of elephant ivory from Tanzania to Uganda, including one senior officer of the Uganda People's Defense Force attached to Uganda’s Special Forces Command, one trafficker who obtained a gun illegally from a police officer, and a bar attendant who was serving as a lookout in the market. Photo credit: Natural Resource Conservation Network. Photos: Natural Resource Conservation Network / EAGLE Network2. Two Ivory Traffickers Caught in Uganda

In 2014, the EAGLE Network started operating in Uganda through the local non-governmental organization (NGO) Natural Resource Conservation Network (NRCN). In 2016, NRCN stood out—not just for its effectiveness in cracking down on wildlife crime and corruption, but also for the bravery and commitment of the team that runs its operations.

One of these cases was the arrest, after several months of undercover investigation, of two men trying to sell 12 pieces of ivory at a restaurant in Uganda's capital, Kampala. One of them was a corrupt military officer: a Senior Officer of the Uganda People’s Defense Force attached to Special Forces Command (SFC) and a representative of Uganda's State House who used his official job and connections to provide security to the illegal operation. The next day, another man was arrested in connection to the crime. A search of his house recovered $40,000 in counterfeit $100 bills and a handgun in his possession. The weapon turned out to be a police-issued handgun - probably given to him by a corrupt police officer.

How do these crimes relate to elephants? Last year, an aerial survey conducted as part of 'The Great Elephant Census' estimated the Uganda elephant population at 5,000 individuals. Some media outlets reported this number as a remarkable success story, given that Uganda's elephant population had crashed to 700-800 in the mid-1980s. However, while the number shows some improvement since that low point, the reality is that Uganda's elephant population is still a fraction of what it once was - Uganda had more than 60,000 elephants as recently as the 1960s - and that poaching is still prevalent. In addition, Uganda has been implicated as a trading hub for ivory in recent years, funneling ivory out of Central African forests and East African savannas. Corruption and criminality are making the future uncertain for elephants in Uganda and the region at large, and efforts by NRCN and other members of the EAGLE Network are more important than ever.

For more information on the EAGLE Network's efforts to combat wildlife crime in Uganda, please visit our Open Spaces blog or the EAGLE Network's website. Visit us on Facebook to share the story about this case.

Two significant ivory traffickers from Nigeria arrested in Togo with elephant ivory tusks weighing 124 kg. Photo: TALFF / EAGLE Network3. Ivory Traffickers Intercepted in Togo

In Togo, the EAGLE Network has been combating wildlife trafficking and corruption since 2013 through local NGO TALFF. In June, TALFF's efforts led to the arrest of two alleged significant ivory traffickers from Nigeria in Togo, near the border to the neighboring country of Benin. The TALFF team intercepted and searched their 4-wheel drive vehicle in front of a police station. The search revealed 12 elephant ivory tusks weighing 124 kg, concealed in the trunk and under the back seats of the car in an effort to get through the border controls without stopping. The traffickers were attempting to sell the ivory in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) after transporting it illegally from Nigeria through Togo, Benin, and Ghana. Thanks to the efforts of TALFF in Togo, both traffickers remain behind bars, awaiting trial.

Togo has been identified as a major illegal wildlife trade junction and has been implicated in large-scale ivory trafficking operations across continents. Read about this and other cases in the EAGLE Network's First Semember 2016 report. To share this story or join the conversation about this case, please visit us on Facebook.

One of six ivory traffickers arrested in Uganda in a landmark case exposing the corruption and complicity behind the illegal ivory trade. Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Network / EAGLE Network4. Arrest of six ivory traffickers in Uganda

A landmark case in Uganda, involving the arrest of six ivory traffickers with a total of 22.5 kg of ivory, exposes the corruption and complicity behind the international illegal ivory trade. The first two arrests in this case, carried out in a swift operation by the EAGLE Uganda team (NRCN) and Police, turned out to be a corrupt Army Major and Army Corporal who were both connected to airport authorities. Later, three more accomplices were arrested, including a driver from the Presidential State House and a former accountant of the state-owned company that handles luggage at the airport. As the investigation continued, a State House-issued bulletproof car with bulletproof vest inside was seized from one of the military personnel and a sixth member of this ring was arrested. During the operation, the Major tried to escape by jumping over a high perimeter wall, but one of the EAGLE Uganda team members managed to grab his legs and pull him down to have him arrested. This team member was awarded for his brave act showing real commitment to stop wildlife crime. See video of the arrest and visit us on Facebook to share this story and join the conversation about this case.

Ivory from young forest elephants seized in the Republic of the Congo. Photo: PALF / EAGLE Network5. Ivory Trafficker Caught in Republic of the Congo

Central Africa's forest elephants have been particularly hard hit by poaching and human encroachment. Between 2002 and 2011, their numbers declined by 62 percent. By 2011, researchers estimate that forest elephants had disappeared entirely from 30 percent of the area they had occupied a decade earlier.

In the north of the Republic of the Congo, the EAGLE Network's local member since 2008, PALF, brought about the arrest of two ivory traffickers with eight tusks of very young forest elephants last June. The two men had been trafficking ivory for years, working with many poachers, massacring forest elephants in central Congo. They also had connections to Chinese traffickers. The men were caught red-handed attempting to sell the contraband ivory. One week later, they were swiftly prosecuted and sentenced to three years in prison and a payment of 3,400 USD in fines and damages.

For more information on elephant conservation across Africa, please visit our website. Read more about the PALF's operations in Congo on the EAGLE Network website. To share this story or join the conversation about this case, please visit us on Facebook.

Two significant traffickers arrested wtih 250 kg of raw ivory in Uganda. Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Network / EAGLE Network6. Two Significant Ivory Traffickers Caught in Uganda

Two significant international traffickers were arrested with 250 kg of raw ivory in Uganda last September, thanks to the efforts of the NRCN, the EAGLE Network's team in-country. Both men were major players of an international ivory trafficking network spanning several African countries. They had been in the business for a number of years and were part of a long chain of criminals supplying raw ivory to Asian traffickers.

The two men arrested belong to the Malian Diaspora, but held national identification cards from several African countries. Documents uncovered in the investigation - including a voter identification card from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) - suggested that one of them was living between Kampala, Uganda, and the DRC.

After an intense investigation lasting more than one month, the arrest finally took place when the two men came to a private residence for a meeting with a potential ivory buyer. As soon as they arrived, they were stopped and arrested by Uganda's Flying Police Squad with support from the team of EAGLE Uganda.

Read more about the activities of the EAGLE Network in Uganda and share this story or join the conversation about this case on Facebook.

Seizure of radiated tortoises in Madagascar. Photo: ALARM / EAGLE Network7. Reptile Traffickers Caught in Madagascar

Madagascar is the tenth and latest country to join the EAGLE Network's operations to fight wildlife crime and corruption. The project on Madagascar, ALARM, was launched with a crackdown on reptile trafficking and a series of arrests focused on the organized illegal trade in radiated tortoises. All live seized tortoises were transferred to the Tsihombe conservation center.

Radiated Tortoises are a long-lived species with a slow rate of reproduction, found only in Madagascar. They are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, mainly due to habitat destruction and intense collection for domestic use and international trafficking. They are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Their beauty and rarity make them popular pets all around the world.

During the first operation carried out by the new ALARM team and Police on Madagascar, five reptile traffickers were arrested with 199 radiated tortoises. The arrest took place when the traffickers arrived at a hotel in the center of Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital, with intent to sell the tortoises. Carrying the animals in three large suitcases in very harsh conditions, the traffickers were arrested and the animals confiscated in a quick and well-prepared operation as they tried to make the sale. The sixth accomplice, a house guard, was arrested a few days later during a house search after he admitted that he had removed additional tortoises out of the house.

The value of one small radiated tortoise is immense, exceeding the price of 1 kg of ivory. This case faced traffic of influence and corruption: Police reported a bribing attempt of approximately 6,800 USD and pressure by a General to release the traffickers. Despite all corruption and traffic of influence attempts, the traffickers remain in prison, awaiting trial.

In a second operation one week later, a trafficker was arrested with 229 radiated tortoises during a house raid. The arrested woman had concealed the tortoises in her residence. She had been trading this species for years, supplied by her own collectors in the south of Madagascar. She revealed two middle men, who were arrested two days later. Unfortunately, 11 young tortoises were found dead as the trafficker kept them in a bag mixed with large onions.

Find out more information about the EAGLE Network's operations in Madagascar feel free to share the story and join the conversation on Facebook.