In another sign of the alarming scale of elephant poaching in central Africa, the authorities in the Republic of Congo recently seized 126kgs of ivory in the capital Brazzaville – the third significant haul in the region in the past five months.
A man and his wife were arrested during the raid, while a third suspect managed to escape. “This operation has dealt a blow to this ivory trafficking network but left us more acutely aware than ever of how vast the networks are,” said Naftali Honig, who heads the Project for the Application of Law for Fauna (PALF) in Congo. “There are many people linked to these traffickers who still need to be brought to justice”
The seizure represents the ivory from around 30 forest elephants, which were probably poached in northern Congo. It follows similarly successful operations in Gabon, where 110kgs of ivory were seized in December, and Cameroon, where 187 tusks were confiscated back in September.
“We appreciate the sustained efforts of Central Africa’s law-enforcement bodies to tackle the illegal ivory trade, which is an organized and very serious crime,” said Leocadio Salmeron, WWF Head of Policy for the Wildlife Crime Initiative in the Congo Basin. “Seizing this ivory is an important step, but the Congolese authorities must now conduct a thorough investigation and bring all the perpetrators to justice.”
Congolese law provides for jail terms of between two and five years as well as fines of up to US$10,000 for ivory traffickers. However, impunity for wildlife crimes remains a real concern – and continues to undermine efforts to tackle the illegal ivory trade, which is driven by ever-increasing consumer demand, primarily in Asia.
And which has already contributed to over 60 percent drop in the number of African forest elephants over the past 15 years. "If law enforcement is ever going to lead to real consequences for traffickers, nobody can be above the law,” added Honig. “The impunity of corrupt officials and large scale traffickers is the fundamental impediment to any effective deterrence.”