Could the Recent Ivory Trade Bust Worth $7 million Save Tourism in West Africa?

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Ivory trade is a serious threat to Africa’s collective tourism and wildlife conservation industries. Decades of charity-driven conservation efforts have failed to curb the problem, and the trafficking of illegal wildlife products has flourished into the 4th biggest illicit trade on the planet.

Most recently, American law enforcement have taken down a smuggling network accused of trafficking at least $7 million dollars worth of rhino horn and elephant tusk around the world.

The charges were unsealed just hours after one of the key suspects, Liberian national Moazu Kromah, who went by a number of aliases including “Kampala Man,” was arrested in Uganda and “expelled to the United States.” It was a joint operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working in partnership with African authorities. One other suspect was being held by authorities in Senegal, pending a U.S. extradition request, and two others remained at large.

The indictments allege that the four men ran the operation from around the end of 2012 until just weeks ago, “to transport, distribute, sell, and smuggle” rhinoceros horn and ivory “from or involving various countries in East Africa, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania, to buyers located in the United States and countries in Southeast Asia.”g

It is a law enforcement victory, but the arrests also reflect a huge shift in strategy on tackling the global illegal wildlife trade which, to some degree, was sparked by Britain’s Prince William.

About four years ago, the Duke of Cambridge, a longtime proponent of wildlife conservation, recognized that stopping poachers wasn’t enough. If the world’s iconic species were to be saved, it was time to follow the money.

Analysts say the trade in pangolin scale, ivory, rhino horn, protected timber and everything in between nets between $100 and $150 billion per year, and that money helps fund virtually every other kind of organized crime on the planet, including terrorism.

Celebrity endorsements and large donations has helped to save thousands of animals and put dozens of poachers in jail. But poachers are the grunt workers who are often freed quickly and are easily replaced, while the people really running the operations, long considered the “untouchables,” have remained free. 

If this new strategy to “follow the money” is implemented in conservation and law enforcement agencies, it could very well save tourism not just in West Africa but across the continent as well.

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