The international trade in wildlife is the 4th largest form of trade in the world, as much as USD $ 10-20 billion per year only behind; drugs, counterfeits and arms. The issue we face today is that drugs, counterfeits and arms can all be manufactured. Unfortunately we only have a limited supply of wildlife before it is gone forever!!
The syndicates behind the trade in wildlife are highly sophisticated and organized. Rhino horn, Tiger Bone, Elephant Ivory and Pangolin are very profitable and highly sought after in China and Vietnam.
Today we are dealing with serious transnational criminals that are highly organized and expand into various continents. The huge profits made through illegal shipments enable bribery and corruption to take place – stimulating the trade in illegal wildlife species.
To give you an idea and to paint a better picture of how it all works, I have mapped out Tanzania as an example. Tanzania has seen decimation of its elephant population in recent years. The country has had a catastrophic decline in its elephant population, 5 years ago there were 110,000 elephants in the wild; today there are less then 40,000 roaming the wild of Tanzania. There have been links to terrorist involvement in the illegal wildlife trade but in Tanzania it is just purely criminality.
The criminals will target the most exposed wildlife that holds the greatest value; the smugglers are opportunists looking for the easiest part of the world to target. The Tanzania border with Mozambique has been hit extremely hard recently. DNA testing has shown that the majority of ivory seizures of recent come from this part of Africa.
Tanzania has a big elephant population; it is poorly protected with corruptible officials. Syndicates are put in place on the ground to compromise the locals, kill the elephants and steal their tusks. The syndicates will then drive the ivory up to the nearest safe house, here the ivory is stockpiled. The stash is usually hidden underground in wealthy individuals houses with high security.
Once the shipment has grown to 1 to 3 tons, it is ready for export. The ports renown for ivory smuggling are; Mombassa Kenya, Dar es Salaam in Tanziania and Zanzibar in Tanzinia. The ivory goes out as raw tusks in shipping containers, 1 to 3 tons in each container, which shows you the level of organisation. It takes a lot of effort to get together 3 tons of ivory, keep it safe somewhere, pack in a container and have it ready for export. The head honchos of the operation will never touch the shipment, instead they will keep an eye out from a far with binoculars to watch the shipment leave the port. If for any reason it is stopped, they will be on the next plane back to China, plane tickets will already be bought and an escape vehicle organised and ready to go. i.e. the chances of catching the top smugglers are very slim.
Zanzibar in Tanzania is a typical port that is attractive to smugglers; the port is semi autonomous and therefore has a different legal system from the mainland. Plus the port is hugely corrupt. The trafficking gangs from Asia that are based in Tanzania will form deep relationships with the officials. The smugglers pay approximately USD 70 per kg to the handlers to make sure no questions are raised about the shipment!
The shipment will then move via various ports to confuse the route before ending up in China or Vietnam. It will also be transhipped to break the route, deceiving custom officials of where it originally cam from. Hai Phong in Vietnam is notorious for arriving imports as is Hong Kong, once it is China it is home free and there is no danger of shipments getting ceased.
This is just one element of the supply chain that we face today, a key component if we are to stop the rate of poaching and save the last remaining Rhino’s, Elephants, Tigers and Pangolins!