Kinshasa (AFP) – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said Thursday they had made three arrests as Kinshasa seeks to dismantle a major ivory trafficking syndicate.
“We have netted three big fish… organisers,” Cosma Wilungula, director of the Congolese Conservation and Nature Institute (ICCN) told AFP.
With the backing of conservation group WWF, Kinshasa has been cracking down on wildlife crime in the knowledge that thousands of elephants are poached annually.
The WWF estimates as many as 30,000 are killed for ivory every year.
The ICCN manages protected zones of the DR Congo and has policing powers to deal with poachers and illicit trade in fauna and flora.
Wilungula said the ICCN team had made the arrests on February 4 and seized some 30 kilos (65 pounds) of ivory tusks and ornaments.
Heralding a “significant blow to the illegal ivory trade” in the DRC the WWF said in a statement on its website that the crackdown represented a major step towards stopping wildlife crime.
“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.”
Wilungula nevertheless expressed frustration that the fight to end trafficking was complicated by an “absence of cooperation between state services,” charging that services including the police and the army “do not realise the importance of this fight.”
Traffickers kill elephants to feed demand for ivory primarily from China and southeast Asia.
The WWF has repeatedly warned that the trade could see the species disappear, noting that the DRC is home to two-thirds of the Congo rainforest, home to the African forest elephant.
The organisation warned Thursday that if poaching continued “the species could all but disappear from the DRC in the near future, following in the footsteps of several other species, such as the Northern White rhino.