Posted on 11 February 2016
Authorities seize ivory and arrest traffickers
In a significant blow to the illegal ivory trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the authorities have dismantled a major ivory trafficking syndicate thanks to a law enforcement programme supported by WWF and local partners.
The police launched their operation on February 4th, seizing 30 kg of ivory tusks and ornaments, and arresting three traffickers, who remain in police custody.
“WWF congratulates the DRC government for successfully breaking up this ivory trafficking network,” said Bruno Perodeau, WWF-DRC Conservation Director. “This crackdown shows that ivory traffickers can no longer count on impunity for their crimes in this country, and demonstrates that with determination, we can be successful in the fight against wildlife crime, even in DRC.”
The Congo rainforest, home to the African forest elephant, is the world’s second largest rainforest – two thirds of which are found in the DRC, where elephant poaching continues at an industrial scale. If poaching is not stopped, the species could all but disappear from the DRC in the near future, following in the footsteps of several other iconic species, such as the Northern White rhino.
"When DRC authorities and civil society organizations work together to combat the illegal wildlife trade, everybody wins, and the criminals lose. If such efforts can be maintained and amplified, there will be new hope in the on-going battle to save the country's rapidly dwindling elephant populations," said Jordan Kimball, Chief of Party for WWF's Central African Forest Ecosystem Conservation (CAFEC) project.
As a key country in the illegal ivory trade, DRC was requested to provide a National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) by the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES) in July 2014. Last March, the CITES Secretariat recommended that members suspend commercial trade in CITES-listed specimens with the DRC because it had not finalized its NIAP within the agreed timeframe.
Faced with the threat of sanctions, the DRC has started to act, completing and implementing its NIAP and now cracking down on a key ivory trafficking network, showing that strong and decisive action by CITES can lead to real conservation impact on the ground.
“This action is an important step but the DRC has to do more, including closing down its illegal domestic ivory markets and increasing its anti-poaching operations,” said Alain Ononino, Head of Policy for the WWF Wildlife Crime Initiative in Central Africa.
According to the 2014 Congolese wildlife law, anyone found guilty of killing, hurting, capturing or possessing a fully protected animal, including an elephant, faces one to ten years in prison and/or a fine of 5 to 10 million Congolese francs (US$5,500-11,000). Trafficking internationally in fully protected species, such as illegally trading in ivory, carries a heftier punishment – 5 to 10 years in jail and/or the fine of 25 to 100 million Congolese francs (US$27,000-110,000).