Governments need to focus on identifying traffickers, then amassing evidence, preparing legal cases, prosecuting, and doling out the toughest possible punishments. This includes analyzing travel records, phone conversations and financial information. Although there is always more to do, Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit’s special task force against poaching has seen success. For example, from January to June of 2015, it arrested over 800 poachers and traders. Over 230 of those were convicted; seven received sentences of twenty or more years; and one was a Chinese woman called the “Queen of Ivory” who faces up to thirty years in prison (Lotter).
Merchants in small shops such as this one at the Ebony Market in Dar-es-Salaam keep illegal animals parts hidden, selling them only to known buyers. This represents a tiny, tiny fraction of the illegal ivory trade. Most ivory is smuggled out of the country and sold to buyers in China in huge shipments.
Although it is illegal to take wood from the bush, and for tourists to take raw wood out of the country, there are two dozen shops at the Ebony Market in Dar-es-Salaam where merchants sell beautiful wood carvings.
Some countries have focused on improving searches at the point of export and import. Although this seems like an obvious solution, doing it well takes money and time. For an idea of how much ivory passes through Hong Kong unnoticed, consider this: between 2000 and 2014, Hong Kong customs officials seized around 33 tons of ivory, taken from an estimated 11,000 elephants, yet Hong Kong’s customs officials opened only 1% of the containers that passed through their ports (Laursen). Given these numbers, imagine how much ivory they are not finding. Dr. Richard Thomas from TRAFFIC sums it up when he says, “The big ports in Asia deal with literally thousands of containers per day. Obviously it’s not practical or feasible to inspect each and every one, and that’s something the organized criminal gangs behind the trafficking rely upon” (Laursen).
To address the problem of smuggled ivory, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized a workshop in Ghana in 2015 to “provide training for national law enforcement agencies to better fight wildlife crime through the control of maritime containers” (Laursen). Although training seminars are great, to truly stop trafficking through ports, governments need to hire, train and equip literally hundreds more customs officials.
Finally, when the authorities do find ivory, it is hard to determine who loaded it into the container or who arranged for its transport. Improving the oversight of such paperwork, and improving communications between transport companies and enforcement agencies would be helpful.