Conservation news

China seizes over 2,700 elephant tusks in massive bust

Countries with the most biodiversity tend to be poorer, have weaker governance and more hierarchical leadership than wealthier nations. Photo by Rhett Butler.

In one of the biggest busts in recent years, Chinese officials have seized 2,748 elephant tusks weighing more than 7 tonnes, the General Administration of Customs announced earlier this week. The ivory was confiscated during a joint operation by customs authorities and police across six provinces on March 30.

Most of the ivory, which had been smuggled from Africa, was found hidden inside several wooden boxes in an abandoned factory, Sun Zhijie, director of the administration’s anti-smuggling bureau, told local media at a press conference. Some 20 suspects have been detained for questioning.

“This is the biggest amount of ivory seized in a single case independently investigated by the anti-smuggling bureau of the General Administration of Customs,” Sun said, according to the South China Morning Post.

Customs authorities added that since the beginning of this year they had filed 182 cases of smuggling of endangered wild species, 53 of which involved ivory. These anti-smuggling operations have led to the seizure of more than 500 tons of endangered wildlife and their products this year, and the arrests of 171 suspects, disrupting 27 criminal gangs so far. China’s ban on domestic ivory trade came into effect from 2018.

One of the operations involved raids in the remote Chinese town of Shuidong, identified as “the world’s largest hub” for the illegal trade in elephant ivory in a 2017 report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

“Prior to publication, we shared our findings with Chinese Customs authorities which responded swiftly with a huge operation in the town comprising about 500 enforcement officers and resulting in the arrest of 27 suspects, 16 of whom went on to face criminal charges,” EIA said in a statement.

“Having been labelled as the single biggest destination of illegal wildlife for many years and having closed its legal domestic ivory market last year, it is now extremely encouraging to see the impact that intelligence-led enforcement can have in China when enforcement authorities pro-actively pursue international wildlife criminals and their networks,” said Mary Rice, EIA’s executive director.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, also congratulated China’s customs officials for sending a firm signal against wildlife trafficking.

“TRAFFIC also encourages the authorities to ensure full and thorough investigations are carried out and offers its assistance in efforts to clampdown on the persistent trafficking of ivory and other endangered species, and in the longer-term goal of changing consumer behaviour and reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products,” TRAFFIC said in a press release.

Banner image of African elephants by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.