East African criminals using Tanzanian ports to smuggle wildlife

8th November 2019 By: John Muchira - Creamer Media Correspondent

Criminals involved in the illegal trafficking of wildlife products in East Africa are using the ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, in Tanzania, as export and transit hubs, a new report shows.

The report, compiled by nongovernmental organisation TRAFFIC, shows that criminals based in Tanzania and the wider East Africa region have used Tanzania’s ports connectivity to run an elaborate wildlife smuggling syndicate targeting markets in Asia.

The two ports are used as an origin, transit or discovery location for illicit wildlife products, including ivory, lion products (teeth and claws), big cat skins, rhinoceros horn, tortoises, shark fins and wild meat.

The criminals also use Tanzanian ports to smuggle products such as timber, narcotics, arms and precious minerals from source to consumer countries.

Over the past decade, TRAFFIC has done analysis on seizures that proves the strategic location of the ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar provides traffickers with access to internatioxnal trade routes and markets, as well as the container shipping industry.

Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $7-billion to $23-billion a year.

From 2009 to 2018, a total of 73 seizures took place at the two ports, indicating that Tanzania is a preferred transit point. Of the 73 seizures, 65 were at the Port of Dar es Salaam.

“The target seaports remain vulnerable to exploitation, especially as criminals involved in wildlife trafficking are operating nearby in the Dar es Salaam region,” states the report, titled ‘Countering wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s seaports’.

The indictment of Tanzania as a hotbed for illegal wildlife trade comes even as the country is stepping up efforts to tackle the organised crime that is threatening its vibrant tourism sector.

In July, authorities resolved to prioritise actions such as improving risk-profiling systems, enhancing interagency and public–private sector collaboration, stronger investigative capacity and smoother information exchange.

In February, a Tanzanian court sentenced a Chinese businessperson known as the ‘Ivory Queen’ to 15 years’ imprisonment for being the leader of an organised crime syndicate and smuggling more than 700 elephant tusks from Tanzania to Asia between January 2000 and May 2014.

The Chinese businessperson had used her societal and business connections in Tanzania and the wider region, as well as with overseas Chinese-owned companies, to identify customers and source assistance in organising, managing and financing the poaching and trafficking of ivory in Tanzania and elsewhere in East Africa.

According to the TRAFFIC report, ivory that had originated from the Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar ports had been seized at the Mombasa port, in Kenya, as well as at ports in the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The report states that criminals use sophisticate methods to conceal illegal wildlife products in container shipments ranging from specialised containers with hidden compartments and concealment materials.