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Notorious Ivory Trafficker Arrested in Africa

Aug 16, 2013 01:50 PM EDT
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Ivory Gabon
The fight against animal poaching and wildlife criminals has a new high-tech ally in the form of WildLeaks, an online forum that lets individuals confidentially report instances of wildlife crime and allows whistleblowers anonymity through encrypted connections via the Tor anonymity network. Stockpiles of ivory are seen in Gabon, in this undated handout photo.
(Photo : Reuters)

A notorious ivory trafficker was arrested this week in Gabon for the third time in as many years, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Messimo Rodrigue is allegedly responsible for the deaths of "hundreds of elephants," the WWF reports, adding that Rodrigue was arrested in the southeastern city of Franceville along with three accomplices. The suspects were in possession of enough ivory to fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

"Messimo Rodrigue was arrested this Sunday along with three accomplices in possession of 10 elephant tusks weighing a total of 93 kilograms," Gilbert Barangolo, according to the chief prosecutor of Franceville, told the WWF.

"He has admitted to being an ivory trafficker," Barangolo said.

Rodrigue's prior arrests have been linked to wildlife trafficking and poaching, said Luc Mathot, who heads Conservation Justice, an NGO which assisted Gabonese officials in tracking and apprehending Rodrigue.

"Rodrigue was arrested once in 2010 and again in January this year. He is one of the most notorious wildlife criminals in the country," Mathot said.

Because Rodrigue has been convicted of wildlife trafficking crimes in the past, if convicted for this latest arrest he faces up to one year in prison and a fine of as much as 20 million Central African francs ($40,400 USD).

Punishments for crimes against wildlife vary across Africa. In the neighboring Republic of Congo a repeat offender would face up to five years in prison for crimes such as Rodrigue's, the WWF reported. In Kenya the parliament there is considering increasing the punishment for crimes against endangered or threatened species to a minimum fine of $115,000 or as many as 15 years in prison, according to The Associated Press.

Ivory, rhino horns and other illicit contraband smuggled out of Africa can fetch huge sums of money in Asia, where there is a thriving blackmarket demand.

In July, 1,148 elephant tusks -- more than 2 tons of ivory -- worth an estimated $2.2 million was seized by Hong Kong customs officials in a container originating from the West African nation of Togo. The bust was Hong Kong's biggest ivory seizure since 2010, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, an illicit cache of elephant tusks, rhino horns and leopard skins with an estimated value of $5.2 million was also seized Hong Kong by customs officials.

Officials found 1,200 polished ivory tusks, 13 black and white rhino horns and five leopard skins, according to the South China Morning Post. The ivory was reportedly worth more than $1,000 per kilogram, the rhino horns more than $25,000 per kilogram and the leopard skins could fetch tens of thousands of dollars each on the illegal blackmarket.

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