Image: Schuyler Shepherd, Wikimedia Commons

A shocking report released from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals a deep-rooted illegal ivory trafficking problem in a small town in China — bigger than anyone could have imagined. 

Despite China’s attempt to close domestic ivory markets this year and increased law enforcement around the country, these efforts do not appear to have reached the town of Shuidong.

EIA investigators have been following up on leads for the past three years, piecing together the transnational criminal network currently serving as the hub of the global illegal ivory trade in Shuidong. The investigation has revealed major Chinese criminal syndicates that have been transporting huge shipments of ivory from Africa  for decades  through the small town in the Guangdong Province.

As Mongabay reported, one of the illegal ivory traffickers told EIA’s undercover investigators that he estimated as much as 80 percent of all poached ivory smuggled out of Africa and into China goes through Shuidong.

As enforcement against poaching and smuggling in Tanzania has increased, Mozambique has become the new target for poachers and ivory traders. The port town of Pemba serves as the perfect hub for these developing criminal activities. The syndicates’ organization and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances attributes to their continued success.

One of EIA’s syndicate sources stated, “Frankly, it’s easier to do this business in Mozambique … it’s easier to operate. In Tanzania, don’t even think about it.” He later added: “We’re able to move anything through Pemba. Everyone there has been bought.”

Theese relentless criminal activities are a major cause of the continuing slaughter of elephants and wildlife across Africa.

Mary Rice, EIA Executive Director, said in a press release: “The Chinese Government’s decision to shut its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017 is an admirable response to mounting international pressure to end the industrial-scale slaughter of Africa’s elephants.  What EIA discovered in Shuidong, however, clearly shows transnational criminal networks are operating with near-total impunity. It is vital that enforcement agencies in Africa and China put these criminals out of business immediately.”

Suggestions for China presented in the report include deploying targeted investigations to disrupt these criminal networks, employing a range of anti-money laundering and anti-corruption laws, and following through on the promise to close commercial ivory trade by 2017.

While this recent report is deeply shocking, it has shed light on how far we still need to go to protect Africa’s wildlife teetering on the brink of extinction.

Watch this video that serves as a supplement to the fascinating report: