, LOME, Jun 10 – Togo has gone hi-tech in its crackdown on ivory smugglers, employing DNA testing to determine the origin and age of contraband tusks and expose those at the heart of the illegal trade.
Some 4.5 tonnes of ivory was confiscated in the tiny West African nation between August 2013 and January this year, leading to the arrest of 18 people, according to the government.
The biggest seizures were on January 23 and 29 at the port in the capital, Lome, where police discovered some 3.8 tonnes of ivory in containers bound for Vietnam.
To dismantle the smuggling network, the authorities have turned to science.
“DNA tests were carried out from February 27 to March 8 on a sampe of 200 tusks from the consignment seized in 2013 and 2014 by a local team of specialists supported by experts from Interpol headquarters,” commissioner Charles Minpame Bolenga, who runs the global law enforcement agency’s bureau in Lome, told AFP.
“Analysis was then carried out at a laboratory in Washington.”
According to Bolenga, the results have allowed Togolese police to determine the origin of the tusks as well as the age of the elephants killed.
The first results indicated that the consignment of ivory seized in 2013 came largely from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia as well as Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, he added.
“We are still waiting for the results of the tests carried out on the biggest seizures conducted at the port of Lome in January this year,” he said.
“We will share the results of this analysis with all the concerned countries in order for them to better protect their elephants because at the moment a single country can’t effectively lead the fight.”
Last year, more than 700 kilogrammes of ivory were discovered in a shop in Lome belonging to Emile N’Bouke, a 58-year-old Togo national.
He is currently on trial in the capital alongside three other suspected traffickers. The verdict in the case is expected this week.
Others arrested as part of the crackdown are scheduled to appear in court before the end of next month, one of the judges involved in the case said.
– Scanning and spot-checks –