Gambian Ivory Smuggler Sentenced to Prison in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, California, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - A Gambian national has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle 66 pieces of ivory from Nigeria into the United States last spring.

The ivory, which consists of 36 whole tusks and numerous pieces of cut-up tusks, was seized from two shipments in April. The seizure represents the largest ivory smuggling operation discovered on the West Coast and the largest seizure of ivory in the United States since the 1980s.

Bahoreh Kabba, 39, was found guilty of violating the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which the U.S. is a signatory. U.S. District Judge Nora Manella handed down the jail term Monday in Los Angeles.

According to court documents, the case started on April 9, 2001 when U.S. Customs Service inspectors working at the Luftansa Cargo facility at Los Angeles International Airport conducted an X-ray examination of a shipment from Nigeria and detected elephant tusks concealed in several chairs.


U.S. Customs inspectors use a portable x-ray unit alongside a passenger jet to x-ray luggage at the Los Angeles airport. (Photo courtesy U.S. Customs Service)
When the chairs were examined, U.S. Customs and Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors found nearly 200 pounds of ivory in the shipment. Some of the ivory had been cut into sections and was concealed in ornamental beaded cloth.

The shipment was resealed and placed under surveillance. On April 17, Ebrima Marigo, 36, who was indicted with Kabba, and another man who has not been indicted, picked up the shipment and transported it to a storage facility in Hollywood. Later that day Customs and Fish and Wildlife executed federal search warrants, recovered the ivory and arrested Marigo, who was later ordered detained without bond.

The Marigo shipment was later determined to be 182 pounds of ivory. Using information from the World Wildlife Fund and other sources, Fish and Wildlife estimates the value of the ivory to be between $50,000 and $230,000.

This shipment included 22 tusks ranging from 18 to 42 inches in length and 150 sections or pieces of tusks.

On April 11, two days after the Marigo shipment was discovered, Customs inspectors at the Luftansa Cargo facility conducted an X-ray examination of another shipment from Nigeria and detected sections of elephant tusks concealed in several beaded wooden statues. Customs and Fish and Wildlife inspectors found approximately 30 pounds of ivory in the shipment, which was also resealed and placed under surveillance. On April 16, Kabba arrived to pick up the shipment, and he transported it to the same storage facility in Hollywood where Marigo brought his shipment.


Jewelry made of elephant ivory (Photo by Rob Barnett courtesy TRAFFIC)
Federal search warrants were served on April 18 and 19, the ivory was recovered, and additional ivory was seized from a van parked at Kabba’s residence in Hollywood. Kabba was arrested on April 18, and he was also ordered detained without bond.

The ivory recovered from Kabba’s storage unit and the van parked at his residence weighed approximately 65 pounds, which included 14 tusks ranging from six to 20 inches in length and 200 sections of tusks. Fish and Wildlife estimates this ivory is worth between $30,000 and $145,000.

Marigo pleaded guilty to smuggling and was sentenced January 14. He got no prison time, but was fined $3,000 and ordered to serve four months in a community corrections center, a sentence he began serving three weeks ago. He will be subject to supervised release for two years.

"The one year sentence handed down today by U.S. District Judge Nora Manella sends a strong message to illegal wildlife traffickers that the U.S. is no place to do business, said Dr. Chris Tuite, director of wildlife and habitat protection with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "Other nations need to follow suit to ensure that illegal trade in wildlife products ends and that international treaties such as CITES are enforced globally."


Elephant tusks confiscated from poachers in South Africa (Photo courtesy South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism)
The Convention of Parties to the CITES treaty is being held later this year in Chile, where the issue of elephant ivory trade will be a focus of heated debate. South Africa has drafted a proposal to sell a stockpile of ivory from elephant tusks at Kruger National Park.

Conservation groups object that any legalized trade in elephant ivory will mask the black market trade, putting more elephants at risk.