Linked Ivory Seizures Explained

In April and May of 2015, two ivory seizures of 3127 kilogrammes and approximately 4600 kilogrammes were made in Bangkok, Thailand, and Singapore respectively.  These shipments, comprising three containers, had originated from Mombasa, Kenya.

It was not long before investigators identified and found the two drivers who had taken the ivory to port.  It was discovered that the same two drivers had previously driven three other containers of ivory into Mombasa port in December and January of 2013 for which charges were presently before the courts.  Clearly, even though the accused were different in these cases, and the modus operandi was different, there were very clear links between the 2015 seizures and the three 2013 seizures.

Clear linkages have also been seen in ivory seizures that have been DNA analyzed for origin of location.  As an example, a DNA analysis was completed of a May 2013 Dubai 1478 kilogramme ivory shipment that had originated in Kampala and transited Mombasa.  Two tusks in that shipment were found to have a direct match with tusks found in a January 2013 Mombasa 3827 kg from five months earlier.  In other words, two tusks from the same elephant ended up in two different shipments five months apart. 

In the same Dubai shipment, there was also a direct match with tusks found in a October 2013 2898 kilogramme Mombasa seizure, a seizure made six months after Dubai.  The likelihood of the same organization being involved in these shipments was obviously high.

An August 2017 report by Tristan McConnell published in the Guardian (“‘They’re like the mafia’: the super gangs behind Africa’s poaching crisis”) presented a brilliant overview as to the cartel aspect of ivory trafficking from the African continent. The hypothesis presented was that there may be as few as three or less major ivory suppliers and/or cartels operating in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The theory was postulated through two totally different methodologies; one by Dr. Sam Wasser, noted biologist and conservationist, through his groundbreaking ivory DNA work and the second by transnational organized crime expert, Gretchen Peters, who had been working on “business” connections between ivory logistician, Feisal Ali Mohammed and the Akasha drug family.

In a 2018 report published in Science Advances, “Combating Transnational Organized Crime by Linking Multiple Large Ivory Seizures to the Same Dealer.” Dr. Wasser and his team at the University of Washington, connected 16 large ivory seizures (exceeding 500 kilograms) made between 2011 to 2015 through DNA analysis.

When this list of linked seizures through DNA analysis is combined with physical evidence similarities between ivory seizures, ( ie the same drivers transporting ivory in five shipments) the list of linked seizures reaches over 30.

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