LAGOS, NIGERIA: A snapshot survey of the illegal ivory market

May 6, 2019 | Reports

Report by Sone Nkoke Christopher – TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 31 No. 1 (2019)

African elephants occur in a wide variety of habitats, from tropical swamp forests to deserts (Blanc et al., 2007). According to Thouless et al., (2016), West Africa’s elephant populations are mostly small, fragmented and isolated. The estimated number of elephants in areas surveyed within the last 10 years in West Africa was 11,489 (± 2,582) at the time of the last
survey of each area, with estimates showing a decline in Nigeria since 2006 (Thouless et al., 2016). In fact, the African Elephant Status Report estimated Nigeria’s total elephant population at only 94 animals and noted five sites as having “lost” elephant populations since the previous status report, but suggested that an additional 169–463 elephants may be in areas that were not surveyed (Thouless et al., 2016). Indeed, the Yankari Game Reserve, with an estimated 350 individuals (Dunn and Nyanganji, 2011), is the largest surviving and only viable elephant population in the country; the Okomu National Park (ONP), and the Omo and Ifon (now Osse River Park) Forest Reserves (OFR) are also said to support only 33 and 28 elephants, respectively (Okekunle, 2016). The future is not bright as threats faced by these elephant populations include habitat destruction and poaching
for the international ivory trade, according to J. Onoja of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (pers. comm., 17 July 2018). Over the centuries, elephant hunters have exterminated many elephant populations, particularly those in North Africa in the early Middle Ages, in
South Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Douglas-Hamilton, 1979), in West Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in northern Somalia in the mid-1950s (Bourgoin, 1949). Successive reports of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) document that the illegal ivory trade has risen to the highest levels in two decades following a sharp upturn in seizures of large shipments of elephant tusks in recent years (Milliken et al., 2012; 2016; 2018). These reports indicate that 2011and 2012 were the worst years on record, with “major surges” in the illegal trafficking of ivory, but some level of decline in the total weight of ivory in trade was noted in 2016 and 2017. The movement of large-scale ivory shipments out of Africa is controlled by organised syndicates. According to Milliken (2014), it is believed that most
of these syndicates currently function as Asian-run, African-based transnational operations. These criminal networks increasingly operate like global multinational businesses, connecting local resources to global markets through complex and interlinked networks, often in collusion with local business and political elites, even sometimes including those tasked with protecting wildlife (Nellemann et al., 2016). Another dimension of the trade has involved the presence of unregulated domestic ivory markets in African countries that openly offer ivory products to local and foreign buyers without government interference (Milliken et al., 2012). Nigeria
is no exception, with ivory openly traded in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. Viewed against previous surveys, contemporary ivory markets in Nigeria are reportedly holding steady, with a thriving trade in ivory items. A 1989 survey found 1,081 kg of ivory items on display in Lagos, making up
70% by weight of ivory items seen in the country; another study undertaken in 1994 estimated that there were between 500 and 700 kg of ivory items openly for retail sale in Lagos (Martin and Vigne, 2013). A third, more detailed survey of the Lagos ivory market was carried out in 1999, with an estimated weight of 1,742 kg of worked ivory for retail sale from a count of 5,966 items in 40 outlets, and 3,681 ivory items were recorded at 16 outlets at the Lekki souvenir market (Martin and Stiles, 2000). A further study in 2002 counted 5,107 ivory items weighing 1,910 kg, mostly at the Lekki market (Courouble et al.,2003), and another study in 2012 found 33 retail souvenier outlets with 14,200 ivory items (Martin and Vigne, 2013). A recent study in 2015 showed that ivory trade flourishes in some parts of Lagos State, with woodwork and beadwork being used as a cover, especially in hotels where such goods are easily accessible to foreign buyers (Akeredolu et al., 2016).

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