OPERATION RED CLOUD: GRINDING RHINO
The First Undercover Investigation into Rhino Horn Trafficking in China in Decades
Los Angeles, July 18, 2017. Elephant Action League (EAL) is proud to release GRINDING RHINO, a public report detailing another expansive and successful undercover investigative operation. In response to unprecedented growth in rhinoceros poaching rates in the past ten years, and enduring consumer demand for rhinoceros horn in both China and Vietnam, EAL commenced Operation Red Cloud in August 2016 and ended it in June 2017.
Operation Red Cloud is the first undercover investigation into rhino horn trafficking in China in decades. This 11-month intelligence gathering and investigative operation was designed to expose and map the networks, the players and the means (or ‘modus operandi’) by which rhino horn is trafficked into China. Today, EAL is releasing the results of this incredibly comprehensive operation.
A separate 200-page Confidential Intelligence Brief (CIB) has been prepared for law enforcement only, and it includes detailed information and evidence on 55 identified Persons of Interest involved in rhino horn trafficking in China and Vietnam.
Although completely illegal since 1993, anyone with the desire and means can easily buy rhinoceros horn in China. All you need to do is walk into an ‘antiques’ shop and ask.
The rhino horn products they show you are far from antique, though, they are new and have most likely been illegally trafficked from Africa to Vietnam and then into China. The report Grinding Rhino: An Undercover Investigation on Rhino Horn Trafficking in China and Vietnam, shows us exactly how rhino horn makes its way into those shops in China, now the largest illegal market for rhino horn in the world.
For Operation Red Cloud, in addition to off-site research and intelligence analysis, EAL investigators executed multiple field missions to China and Vietnam. EAL targeted provinces along the southern border of China — Guangxi, Guangdong, and Yunnan — as well as Henan, Fujian, Beijing, and a few key locations in Vietnam. Leveraging the experience and expertise of EAL’s investigative team, and a regional network of informants, advisors, and skilled investigative assets, Operation Red Cloud has produced actionable data on what is the latter half of the rhino horn supply chain.
The key trends found during Operation Red Cloud that will guide further action by authorities include the following:
Rhino horn was found in nearly all locations investigated by the EAL team. The black market for rhino horn in China is stable and strong. Rhino horn and other wildlife contraband often move from Vietnam to the Guangxi or Yunnan Provinces and then to China’s primary retail markets (Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Beijing).
The price identified was between $26,500 and $40,000/kg for whole raw rhino horn, and between $34 and $70/gram for cut objects (see products list and prices on the report).
Smugglers tend to use individuals to transport contraband across the border; individuals can more easily pass through the border (via a port of entry or via illicit routes) without inspection or detection.
The corruption exhibited by customs and law enforcement authorities in Vietnamese and Chinese border regions is substantial;
Most dealers do not hold a large inventory of rhino horn (whole, raw, or carved), instead, material is generally sourced on-demand and primarily sold only to familiar customers in order to avoid detection by authorities.
Similar routes are used for all types of contraband, including illegal arm and narcotics.
A seasoned rhino horn dealer, who is also a VP of the local Association of Collectors, alleged involvement with commanders in the Chinese military, where they used him to identify authentic wildlife products (such as rhino horn) for them to purchase, as well as allowed the Chinese navy fleet to pick up and carry wildlife contraband back to China.
EAL investigators also found large quantities of other wildlife products such as tiger (teeth, skins and bones), as well as ivory, bear paws, bile and gall bladders, hawksbill turtle shells, helmeted hornbill beaks, snow leopard skins, civet cats, king cobras, wolf skin and teeth, and corals.