9 traffickers arrested in Gabon with 21 elephant tusks

9 traffickers arrested with 21 elephant tusks weighing 131 kg in a crackdown on a major ivory trafficking ring using hidden compartments in vehicles. The seizure of 21 tusks and 4 ivory pieces is a mere snapshot of the regular activities of this vast network operating for many years with representatives and stations spread all over Gabon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, trafficking ivory between Central and West Africa.

This network, that is estimated to have generated the killings of thousands of elephants, demonstrates that corruption is the main enabler of organized wildlife trafficking. One of its heads has been arrested in Cameroon 3 years ago with 600 kg ivory but was awarded a ridiculous sentence sending him right back to resume his illegal activities.

6 operations were carried to arrest the traffickers. The first and most crucial of the operations was carried out on August 8, when a Gabonese national of Cameroonian origin was arrested in Lambarene, Centre Gabon. He was driving a car with a partner inside. 19 elephant tusks and 4 pieces of ivory weighing a total of 120 kg were concealed in a hidden compartment of the vehicle. 18 rounds of 458 calibre ammunition, close to one million CFA francs in cash and an expired residence permit belonging to a well-known Cameroonian ivory trafficker were also uncovered in the car.

On August 9, another main trafficker who had already been arrested for another case, was denounced and arrested for his role in the selling of some of the seized ivory. On August 10, a key man in the ivory trafficking network was arrested. He had facilitated one of the ivory transactions. On August 11, a major trafficker who had been sentenced to prison in recent years was denounced and arrested in Makokou, North-East Gabon. He was in charge of collecting ivory in the East and North-East of Gabon. He was waiting to be delivered more ivory by the traffickers arrested on August 8. Investigations led to the arrest of 4 more traffickers and the seizure of 2 ivory tusks weighing 11 kg on August 17 and 18, all being members of the same trafficking ring.

At different levels, all of these traffickers were working in the same syndicate.

It was estimated that more than $40 000 have been spent in buying ivory only in the past 9 months. That could be estimated to more than 2 tons of ivory been bought within less than a year.

One of the kingpins of who was arrested in October 2020 in Cameroon, with more than 600 kg of ivory, on his way to selling the contraband, dissimulated it in a hidden compartment of his truck. While still on trial, he was busy with his illegal activities of collecting ivory in the neighbouring countries. The seizure in Gabon of 131 kg was on its way to be delivered right at his doorstep.

The impunity driven by corruption and the light sentences given to major traffickers remains the key problem to organized wildlife crime.

The prosecution rate to jail term for ivory trafficking is fortunately high in Gabon and all the arrested traffickers were remanded in prison custody in Libreville.