By Karl Ammann, Erick Kaglan
In December 2012, Malaysia announced the discovery and confiscation of the largest illegal ivory shipment ever—six tons of raw tusks hidden among teak planks in a shipping container from Togo (alternative news reports talked of 24 tons). In July of this year, another two ton shipment of tusks of baby and teenage elephants was intercepted in Hong Kong, also coming from Togo. In addition to this, there were recently a range of confiscations from Vietnamese air passengers who were transporting ivory pieces disguised as wooden ornaments while traveling from Lome, the capital of Togo, to Nairobi. We documented the same type of camouflaged pieces of ivory being sold by a dealer outside of Hanoi, and I’m pretty convinced that these items were from the same production facility as the items confiscated in Nairobi.
Bryan Christy, the author of the National Geographic magazine print feature on the ivory trade, in a subsequent blog entry on the subject pointed out that in the last 24 years not a single kingpin type of trafficker of ivory had ever been arrested and prosecuted—either at the production or consumer end of the supply chain. At about the same time as Bryan Christy’s reporting of this fact, a producer for ABC’s Nightline was putting out his feelers to do a story about the wildlife trade in Africa, approaching various NGOs and stakeholders with some background experience in these issues, including ourselves. It was clear that the main interest for ABC was ivory and maybe as a fallback position, the rhino horn trade. It would appear that Ofir Drori of LAGA, a Cameroon-based conservation NGO, then suggested the Togo ivory trail as a topic where relevant shooting sequences could be guaranteed and that the team, while en route, take in the arrest of a chimpanzee dealer that had some chimpanzee orphans on offer, which supposedly LAGA and its local counterpart in Guinea had lined up. This operation was delayed for several months after we reported—as part of another investigative documentary—the same dealer and the presence of two chimps to LAGA. By the time the operation was mounted to coincide with the arrival of the ABC team, the dealer and the two chimps had disappeared.
At the Togo end, a local dealer had been pinpointed as a kingpin ivory trafficker. A South African investigator visited him at his shop to ask about the availability of ivory and got him to mention that he had sent ivory to Pakistan, Hong Kong, and China. This was, he now claims, part of a typical sales pitch which was then used as an admission of guilt and evidence that he was a big shot international exporter. However, the shop door still today has a posted letter from the French army commander of the local military contingent based in Togo and going back to the 1990 CITES ban on cross border trade, stating that exports of large amounts of ivory was now illegal and that any souvenir item exported should not exceed the value of 1,000 French francs! So he says he knew and accepted these restrictions, but they did not apply to domestic trade.
Mr. N’Bouke was arrested in early August 2013 with a great deal of media fanfare. More....