Seized Ivory May Have Come From as Many as 140 Poached Elephants (Tanzania)


Sophie Tremblay & Willy Lowry, National Geographic

Date Published

Tanzanian authorities announced on Monday that they had seized 1.4
tons of elephant tusks and arrested a group of major international
ivory dealers in Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city.

The ivory was discovered in late June at a house in Kimara, a mostly
upper class suburb, by officials with a specialized wildlife crime
task force that is part of Tanzania’s National and Transnational
Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU).

According to Elisifa Ngowi, the head of the NTSCIU task force, the
tusks had been cut into 660 pieces, and suspects in custody allegedly
revealed that the ivory was being readied for export to Vietnam and

Ngowi estimates that the pieces added up to 280 tusks from 140
elephants. Experts with the unit estimated the seized ivory to be
worth 4.6 billion Tanzanian shillings (two million dollars).
Tanzania’s Director of Criminal Investigations, Diwani Athumani, says
it was one of the biggest seizures in the country’s history.

Earlier, Tanzanian police and officials with the unit had detained and
interrogated dozens of people, which eventually led them to the
leaders of the poaching network. Seven people, including two Ugandans
and two Guineans, were arrested in connection with the seizure.
They’re facing charges of heading organized crime, unlawful dealing in
trophies, and possession of government trophies. If convicted they
could each face up to 40 years in prison.

“We gathered important intelligence from this operation,” Ngowi says.
“We learned more about the important people in the international
market and how they carry out their business, including methods of
payment to dealers here in Tanzania.”

Several alleged ivory dealers have been arrested in Tanzania by the
NTSCIU during the past year. In October the task force arrested Yang
Feng Glan, dubbed the Ivory Queen for her alleged leadership of one of
Africa’s biggest ivory smuggling rings. The last major seizure in
Tanzania happened three years ago, when 1,700 pieces of ivory weighing
5.5 tons were seized in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

Ngowi believes that many of the tusks seized in this operation came
from elephants killed in the Selous Game Reserve, an area once home to
the largest population of elephants in East Africa. Last year a
government census revealed that from 2009 to 2014 Tanzania lost 60
percent of its elephants to poaching, and during the past decade the
number of elephants in the Selous fell from 70,406 to 15,217.

Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and investigations
around the world announced this past week:

MACAWS AND FURS: Hong Kong Police and customs officers confiscated 46
endangered macaws, 24 magpie robins, and 14 boxes of furs as the goods
were being loaded onto a speedboat bound for Shenzhen, a city in
southeastern China, the South China Morning Post reports. A police
source said he believed the macaws, which can be sold for as much as
$20,000 on the black market, were imported into Hong Kong legally but
were being exported illegally to escape stringent restrictions imposed
by mainland authorities.

ELK POACHING: Four men pleaded guilty to poaching a bull elk on the
Roan Plateau, in western Colorado, the Denver Post reports. State
investigators said they learned of the illegal hunt after one of the
men posted a photo online of himself with the animal, which was killed
in an area closed to hunting. Two of the men were employees with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

RUNAWAY SUSPECT: South African authorities nabbed a man suspected of
poaching rhinos in 2011 and keeping their horns, AllAfricasays. The
suspect was arrested in 2015, was later released on bail, and had been
on the run ever since. Cops busted him after he withdrew cash from an
ATM machine.

TORTOISE TAKER: Police in Mumbai, India, seized three live Indian star
tortoises from a woman they say were carrying them in a plastic
basket, according to Mid-Day. It’s unclear why the woman allegedly
possessed them. Considered vulnerable, Indian star tortoises are
prized for the exotic pet trade.