China’s Crackdown Shows the Impact Intelligence-Led Enforcement Can Make on Wildlife Crime


China Customs announced last week the seizure of 2,748 elephant tusks following a major enforcement crackdown. The 7.48 tons of ivory were seized as part of a joint operation in relation to major smuggling cases in the country.

In a press release on April 15th, the General Administration of Customs announced that since the start of the year, the Anti-Smuggling bureau in China has 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 tons of endangered species products impounded.

One of several enforcement operations detailed in the press statement was that led by the Zhanjiang and Fuzhou Customs Anti-Smuggling bureau 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, who responded swiftly with a huge operation in the town, comprised of about 500 enforcement officers and resulting in the arrest of 27 suspects, 16 of whom went on to face criminal charges.

China’s efforts to shut down illegal wildlife trafficking are an important step in saving elephants like these from being killed for their ivory. Image credit Kim Bartlett / Animal People, Inc.

Of the three main players running the Shuidong syndicate, one was arrested during the raid and a second was 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.”

Featured image: China Customs officers display many of the ivory tusks seized in enforcement operations since the start of 2019. Image credit China Customs.

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We investigate and campaign against environmental crime and abuse. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil. We work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by addressing the threats posed by plastic pollution, bycatch and commercial exploitation of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Finally, we reduce the impact of climate change by campaigning to eliminate powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases, exposing related illicit trade and improving energy efficiency in the cooling sector. We use our findings in hard-hitting reports to campaign for new legislation, improved governance and more effective enforcement. Click to see author's profile.

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