Did Chinese Diplomats Smuggle Ivory Out of Tanzania?

The Environmental Investigation Agency recently put out a report accusing top Chinese officials of smuggling tons of ivory out of Tanzania. How much ivory? Well, according to the report, enough that after they arrived home, “prices for the illegal commodity doubled up to $700 per kilogram.”

The heart of the issue is the Mwenge Market in Dar es Salaam, a popular place for tourists in search of handicrafts. EIA officials went undercover in Mwenge in 2014. Two illegal ivory traders agreed to meet with their undercover investigator where they admitted that despite public police crackdowns on the market, the ivory trade there was still very much alive.

It’s then EIA dropped a bombshell:

“They both [the traders] related how ivory sales by Mwenge-based traders boomed when a large entourage arrived during a visit to Tanzania by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in March 2013. The large Chinese Government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased. The two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilos of ivory, later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane.”

And this is not the first time Mwenge market traders have made this claim. One trader is quoted in the report as saying, “You know when the president of China Hu Jintao was coming to Tanzania? They come to take many things. But that was not for Hu Jintao, it was the whole group. Then they go direct to the airport, because VIP no one checks your bags.”

The report also implicates many of the leaders of Tanzania, and notes that since President Jakaya Kikwete has taken office, elephant numbers have declined rapidly. It also asserts that the president was handed a list that implicated a number of top level government officials in the illegal trade of ivory, yet nothing came of this knowledge.

Now Tanzania and China are in a major spin control frenzy. They have denounced the EIA report as false. One official in Tanzania tried to dissuade the international news from picking up the story by telling reporters that it would be impossible to smuggle so much ivory onto a heavily guarded plane, where bags are searched.

Yet sources have confirmed that diplomatic bags are not searched.

Meanwhile China issued a standard response stating that, “We are gravely concerned about stories quoting the report by the United Kingdom-based nongovernmental Environmental Investigation Agency without showing any evidence that the Chinese diplomats and officials are involved in illegal trafficking of ivory in Tanzania. The Chinese embassy is strongly opposed to such groundless and irresponsible allegations.”

The EIA responded to Tanzania and China’s denials by stating that they had already released this report to top officials within both governments and included confidential briefings. The EIA is London-based which means that Tanzania has very little control over what they print or publish.

Some agencies and NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa have been reprimanded in the past for going after diplomats and top officials. However, the EIA is committed to continuing their program, to help stop the elephant populations from vanishing before our eyes. Now the main concern seems to be, if this report can come to light, and China gets away with smuggling ivory in diplomatic and presidential planes, what’s to stop them from doing it again?


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mark V.
Mark Verbossche3 years ago

Chinese people are mother natures cancer, they will destroy everything.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

I agree with Jane O. and Mandy H.

Past Member 3 years ago

It is a cultural norm that is very strongly ingrained in them and other uncompassionate beings.
Educating the younger and future generations is probably the only viable way to help stop this cruelty and destruction of species.

Mandy H.
Mandy H3 years ago

It's very sad but not overly surprising. After all we're all aware that both countries are corrupt and big on doing anything for as much money as possible.

Angela K.
Angela AWAY K3 years ago

The human race is the worst thing, that could happen this planet

jane oldfield
jane Oldfield3 years ago

China is so corrupt I think this is entirely credible. The Chinese callous disregard for the natural world, its ridiculous and primitive beliefs, and its greed make it, in my view, one of the most despicable nations on earth. If this story upsets you don't buy Made in China and hit them where it hurts. If enough people did this it might have an impact.

ERIKA SOMLAI3 years ago

thank you for sharing

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