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Research from the Environmental Investigation Agency

 shows that Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, has been the main exit point since 2015 for illegal ivory and pangolin scales destined for consumer markets in Asia.

Between 2015 and 2019, the country was linked to seizures of more than 30 tons of ivory and 167 tons of pangolin scales, the equivalent of at least 4,400 elephants and 167,000 pangolins.

Criminal gangs involved in the trade would also handle humans, drugs, minerals and weapons.

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The report, outside Africa, says international transport companies such as shipping giants and airlines play a key role in international wildlife trade, alongside ports and airports in West and Central Africa.

It suggests that endemic corruption in sub-Saharan states, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, has led to levels of poaching and trafficking that risk the extinction of elephants and pangolins in the region.

Shruti Suresh, a leading EIA wildlife campaigner, said :" Given the challenges of crime and corruption in several regions of West and Central Africa, we must act now before elephants, pangolins and other wildlife disappear from this part of the world forever. “

"The porous borders of West and Central Africa make the region exceptionally vulnerable to wildlife trafficking networks, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the problem.»

The EIA, a UK-based charity that investigates environmental and wildlife crimes, was one of 20 leading conservation organisations to agree a joint conservation statement at the G20 last month, brokered by the independent Stop the illegal Wildlife Trade campaign.

The agency conducted undercover investigations in West and Central Africa, concluding that local traffickers are transporting illegal wildlife products, mainly pangolin scales and ivory, to ports and airports in Nigeria and elsewhere for smuggling into Asia.

The report claims that well-organized criminal networks in these parts of Africa control the trade in illegal wildlife material outside the continent. In Nigeria, it details the use of corruption by local customs and security officials, as well as the ease of transferring millions of dollars through the country's banks.

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It also cites surveys in countries such as Gabon, which has one of Africa's highest elephant populations and is a major source of ivory, and Cameroon, which lost 70% of its elephants between 2000 and 2015 and allows domestic ivory trade.

Pangolin scales and ivory are exported around the world via third countries, such as Malaysia or Singapore, to destination markets in Vietnam and China. Using fraudulent shipping documents, pangolin scales were allegedly exported under the guise of beef, auto parts or ginger.

The EIA also obtained documents suggesting that major freight and shipping companies are used to transport goods to Asian markets.

They report a case study of two maritime agents in Nigeria, gentlemen X and Y, who work with traffickers to extract parts of wild animals from Africa. Mr X sends them by boat from Lagos, often hidden among other products, such as food and building materials, to Malaysia for processing and repackaging before their final destination.

Mr Y clears stock from a Nigerian airport twice a week on flights to Southeast Asia. It sources ivory in Cameroon for Asian customers and handles bribes for officials and airport security.

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While coronavirus lockdowns in African countries have hampered short-term trade, mainly by preventing Vietnamese and Chinese supply agents from traveling to Africa, the EIA suggests criminals are using the Internet to circumvent Covid restrictions.

The report warns that given the role of illegal wildlife trade in the spread of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, this issue should be considered a national priority for African states already struggling with endemic corruption and weak rule of law.

Ms Suresh said: "as a matter of urgency, governments in the region need to tackle corruption, lack of political will to tackle wildlife crime, poor law enforcement – especially at porous borders and ports of entry / exit-as well as the role of foreign nationals involved in wildlife crimes operating in this region. »

Research from the Environmental Investigation Agency

 shows that Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, has been the main exit point since 2015 for illegal ivory and pangolin scales destined fo...