Landmark Arrest in Togo and Another Seizure in Hong Kong

On the same day this week, two major incidents related to the ivory trade took place: a key ivory trafficker in West Africa was arrested and a massive seizure of ivory was made by Hong Kong customs officials.

This Tuesday, Emile “The Boss” N’Bouke, a notorious ivory dealer operating for almost 40 years, allegedly with the help of strong connections to corrupt officials, was arrested in Togo with 700kg of ivory. N’Bouke was reportedly not only involved in buying and selling ivory but also in ensuring a continual supply by directly financing the poaching of elephants in West Africa.

Responsible for the first arrest of its kind in Togo was a newly formed team working in conjunction with the Togolese government on the effective application of wildlife law. The small team was headed by Ofir Drori, founder of the renowned wildlife enforcement non-governmental organisation LAGA and winner of the 2012 Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal. Following the arrest, Drori has been quoted as saying of N'Bouke: "Every ivory trafficker we were trying to investigate was leading us back to him...he is the godfather of ivory trafficking in Togo...40 years of work, 40 years of contacts, 40 years of criminal activity, you can imagine that this person alone is in charge of the slaughter of dozens of thousands of elephants". N’Bouke now faces interrogations and court hearings, and securing a commensurate conviction will be the next challenge faced by the team. 

Also on Tuesday, 1,120 tusks were seized in Hong Kong, found inside crates among wooden blocks in a shipping container sent from Nigeria and accompanied by 13 rhino horns and 5 leopard skins. The last large ivory shipment seized in Hong Kong took place just last month and arrived from Togo, while in December 2012 over 6 tonnes, also from Togo, were seized in Malaysia. As the only deep sea port in West Africa, the country’s Lome port is a busy shipping hub for the region, facilitating its use by criminals as an exit point for illegal wildlife products from Africa.

Ivory seizures are often touted as signs of victory in the struggle by authorities against wildlife crime, but like any seizure of illegal products, their value can only be measured by the arrest and incarceration of key traffickers masterminding the on going shipments of large volumes of ivory. Without these concrete actions, the current elephant poaching situation will likely remain the same.

If a few individuals such as Ofir Drori’s team can work on shoestring budgets to achieve such landmark results, how much more of an impact on illegal wildlife trade could affluent governments make in countries which are actively siphoning off the world’s dwindling wildlife? One has to ask why loud commitments made by government delegates when the media spotlight shines bright during international meetings are not being matched by the political will to bring about real change when they return home.


Note: This article was edited and amends made on 9 August 2013

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