Texto Conjuntural: Golfo da Guiné #06 – Gabon and the ivory smuggling network

Larissa Rocha de Souza Almeida

Gabon, located in Central Africa, is the home to the largest refuge for elephants in the Congo Basin: the Minkébé National Park. The down side to it is the illegal hunting to remove the ivory it from the elephant’s tusk and to sell it, which has killed over 25,000 elephants in the National Park in one decade; “that’s a decline of somewhere between 78 and 81 percent in the park’s forest elephant population” (MONGABAY, 2017). “Gabon’s government had not realized the scale of the poaching: it had created an agency for national park police only in 2012” (SCIENCE, 2017).

One of the biggest buyers of ivory is China – they consider ivory to be a luxurious product and use it to manufacture products such as jewelry and ornaments (BBC, 2015). “China has the biggest ivory trade in the world and wildlife experts believe that around 70 per cent of the world’s ivory ends up there” (BBC, 2017).

Studies have shown that the commerce within African borders has in fact decreased, but it’s nothing but an illusion due to the fact that the demand for ivory is becoming increasingly international, with a clandestine international market that aims to China and other Asian countries, as opposed to the trade in the African continent itself (MONGABAY, 2018).

However, there might still be hope for the remaining elephants, given that the price of the ivory has fallen sharply in China, who appears to be committed to shutting down it’s domestic ivory trade (NYT, 2017). Another positive aspect is that, recently, officials in Gabon seem to have dismantled the Central African nation’s largest ivory trafficking network, which only in 2017 traded, sold and shipped six tons of ivory across the continent (NYT, 2018).

The investigation had been ongoing for two years, assisted by Interpol and the French law enforcement (DAILY NEWS, 2018) and it ended in the arrests of nearly ten people linked to Boko Haram, the militant group that has been acting on the North of Nigeria for several years. They were charged with organized crime and ivory trafficking, summing up to at least 10 years in prision (NYT, 2018).

Ultimately, a big step has been taken by the Gabon government in finally arresting some of the smugglers, but there is still a lot to be done in order to protect elephants from becoming extinct. Their population has dropped to almost 65% in 11 years and there is a demand to create mechanisms to keep a closer watch on Gabon’s forests it’s inhabitants.

“To save the animals, cross-border law enforcement measures and patrols are urgently needed, the scientists say. They have called on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to recognize forest elephants as critically endangered and in need of the highest protection” (SCIENCE, 2017).



BBC. Why is ivory so popular in China? October 19, 2015. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/34571732

DAILY NEWS. Gabon says major ivory trafficking ring dismantled, 10 held. The Associated Press, January 20, 2018. Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/newswires/news/world/gabon-major-ivory-trafficking-ring-dismantled-10-held-article-1.3767586

LONEL YPLANET. Minkébé National Park. Available at: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/gabon/attractions/minkebe-national-park/a/poi-sig/1558175/355302

MONGABAY. More than 25,000 elephants were killed in a Gabon national park in one decade. Mike Gaworecki, Febuary 24, 2017. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/02/more-than-25000-elephants-were-killed-in-a-gabon-national-park-in-one-decade/

MONGABAY. Comércio local de marfim na África Central está sendo substituído por mercado clandestino internacional, segundo relatório recente. 3 jan. 2018. Available at: https://pt.mongabay.com/2018/01/comercio-local-marfim-na-africa-central-esta-sendo-substituido-mercado-clandestino-internacional-segundo-relatorio-recente/

NEW YORK TIMES. Elephants Get a Reprieve as Price of Ivory Falls. March 29, 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/world/africa/ivory-elephants-china.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Africa&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

NEW YORK TIMES. Gabon Says It Busted a Major Ivory Smuggling Network. Dionne Searcey, January 18, 2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/world/africa/gabon-ivory-smuggling.html

SCIENCE. No place is safe for Africa’s hunted forest elephants. Virginia Morell, Febuary 20, 2017. Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/no-place-safe-africa-s-hunted-forest-elephants


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