Seized ivory on display in China by China Customs

Credit: China customs

China’s crackdown shows the impact intelligence-led enforcement can make on wildlife crime

China Customs has this week announced the seizure of 2,748 elephant tusks following a major enforcement crackdown.

The 7.48 tonnes of ivory was seized as part of a joint operation in relation to major smuggling cases in the country.

In a press release on Monday (15 April), the General Administration of Customs announced that since the start of the year, Anti-Smuggling bureaux in China have filed investigations on 182 cases of smuggling of endangered species and endangered species products, 53 of which involved ivory.

In total, 27 criminal groups were caught, 171 suspects arrested and 500.5 tonnes of endangered species products impounded.

One of several enforcement operations detailed in the press statement was that led by Zhanjiang and Fuzhou Customs Anti-Smuggling bureaux in response to the findings of our report The Shuidong Connection.

Our investigations revealed that the obscure Chinese town of Shuidong was the base of operations for a major syndicate trafficking ivory and other illegal wildlife products.

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.

Of the three main players running the Shuidong syndicate, one was arrested during the raid and a second located in Tanzania, from where he voluntarily returned to face justice. The third was eventually found in Nigeria and repatriated for trial this January.

Mary Rice, our Executive Director, said: “China’s General Administration of Customs is to be congratulated for its extraordinary efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade. The official press release documents enforcement efforts by China Customs which has gone beyond seizures, resulting in the arrests of numerous suspects and engaging international co-operation with law enforcement authorities in countries such as Tanzania and Nigeria.

“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.

“China is showing the way for others to follow; it is now a shining example of what can be done when the will and the resources are put to effective use and it should be commended for its efforts.”