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A notorious wildlife trafficker was sentenced to five years and three months in prison last Thursday in a Manhattan federal court for conspiring to traffic rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory worth millions of dollars.
The sentencing is the culmination of a groundbreaking U.S.-led investigation involving law enforcement and partners from Uganda and other countries. While these sorts of multinational investigations are essential to disrupting global networks of wildlife criminals, some believe the sentence could have been tougher.
“We applaud the efforts and success of the investigators on this case—it is a benchmark example we should look to repeat,” says Moses Olinga, Program Manager for Uganda and the Horn of Africa at IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). “However, I believe the court was a bit lenient, considering the offence committed.”
Moazu Kromah, a resident of Uganda, was convicted for his central role in the transport, distribution, sale and smuggling of around US$3.4M worth of rhinoceros horns and US$4M worth of elephant ivory between December 2012 and May 2019, according to a release by the Department of Justice. These figures amount to a small percentage of the total value of the products that his gang is believed to have trafficked.
The approximately 190 kilograms of horns and 10 tons of ivory that Kromah and his conspirators were found guilty of exporting to foreign buyers translates to an estimated 35 rhinoceros and more than 100 elephants that were illegally killed.
Intended for buyers in U.S. and Southeast Asia, the rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory originated in several countries in East Africa including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania. Kromah and his co-conspirators moved the horns and ivory by concealing them in African masks, statues and other pieces of art.
Trade involving endangered or threatened species violates several U.S. laws and international treaties. Rhinoceros and elephants are threatened with extinction, with three rhino species and one elephant species currently listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Olinga says the 63-month sentence imposed by Judge Gregory H. Woods is “welcome but not satisfactory,” given that Kromah had been a long-standing ringleader in the trafficking of elephant and rhinoceros parts. “Hopefully he has provided the U.S. authorities with information about his wider network.”
“Tough sentencing is needed for wildlife traffickers to send a signal to others engaged in these crimes that what they are doing is not acceptable,” Olinga says.
He notes that in 2019, a Malawian court sentenced a Chinese syndicate found guilty of trafficking a smaller quantity of ivory than Kromah to 56 years in prison. That same year, a Tanzanian court sentenced Yang Fenglan, a Chinese businesswoman, to 15 years in jail for smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.
“We also know that parts of Kromah’s network are still actively trafficking wildlife products. We must continue the fight to disrupt their activities,” Olinga adds.