, November 17, 2008 (ENS) - Africa's largest international operation against wildlife crime has netted 57 suspected illegal wildlife product dealers and 1,000 kilograms of powdered, carved and raw items of ivory in coordinated raids across five African countries.
On the weekend, Kenya Wildlife Service, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and INTERPOL personnel raided local ivory markets, airports, border crossings and smuggling points. Cheetah, leopard, serval cat and python skins, as well as hippo teeth also were seized.
Kenya served as the coordination center for the simultaneous operation in the other participating countries - Congo Brazzaville, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia.
More than 300 staff from the police, customs, wildlife agencies, national intelligence agencies and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force were involved in the operation across the five countries.
Clement Mwale, right, of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, displays an ivory necklace seized in a raid this weekend. Nairobi, November 17, 2008. (Photo courtesy Kenya Wildlife Service)
"Kenya Wildlife Service used various specialized law enforcement units to conduct the operation. It is also in the process of modernizing and enhancing its law enforcement capacity through the acquisition of ivory detectors, and other specialized security equipment, in order to counter wildlife crimes more efficiently," said the KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich.
The raids over the weekend were a culmination of a four-month undercover operation aimed at curbing illicit ivory trading. The operation was code-named Project Baba in honour of Gilbert Baba, a Ghanaian ranger who was killed in the line of duty a decade ago by poachers.
In Kenya, a total of 36 suspected ivory dealers were arrested and 113 pieces of ivory weighing 358 kilograms seized. Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Police are still pursuing four suspects who escaped.
Most of the suspects were found outside national parks and reserves. They include three Chinese nationals and local dealers, mainly brokers and poachers.
Suspects arrested over the weekend were this morning arraigned in various courts across the country, including Malindi, Voi, Mombasa and Loitokitok.
The operation was initiated as a result of a request made to INTERPOL by African elephant range states to help the continent deal with illegal elephant killings.
All the participating countries simultaneously struck at the illegal domestic markets over the weekend in a coordinated manner to ensure that illegal ivory dealers who would try to cross borders were intercepted.
A total of 10 Kenya Wildlife Service field units in areas most prone to illegal ivory trade and trafficking in Kenya participated in the operation, which was conducted in Nairobi, Amboseli, Tsavo East, Mombasa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Narok, Maralal, Nakuru and Aberdares national parks and reserves.
"Project Baba was a huge success in Kenya," said Director Kipng’etich. "We in KWS strongly believe that ivory trade fuels illegal killing of elephants. The project was, therefore, a blessing to the African range states whose elephants have declined tremendously over the years."
Elephant ivory items seized from criminal suspects this weekend. (Photo courtesy KWS)
Illegal domestic ivory markets have been persistently identified by nature conservation agencies - including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, as a major factor in continued poaching of elephants and illegal trade in ivory. Operation Baba was planned to address that problem.
The operation was coordinated by the INTERPOL General Secretariat, based in Lyon, France, and involved the participation of agencies that are members of the INTERPOL Working Group on Wildlife Crime.
Giuliano Zaccardelli, director of INTERPOL’s Operational Assistance Services and Infrastructure Support program, said OASIS is committed to assisting countries to mount such operations by enhancing their capacity to address crime threats nationally, regionally and globally.
"Co-operation among countries in East, West and Southern Africa against wildlife crime has set an inspired example," Zaccardelli said. "Similar operations could also be conducted in Asia, the Americas and in any other region where criminal interests, including trafficking in illegal wildlife products, are common."
The German government, as part of the INTERPOL General Secretariat Project OASIS initiative, provided funding to support the operation with additional support from The Humane Society of Canada, Humane Society International, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Born Free Foundation, as well as by the participating agencies.
According to the INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald Noble, Operation Baba is the first in a series of operations of this nature being planned worldwide. He underlined the need for an international perspective in fighting such crimes.
"International co-operation is key to law enforcement today. With the globalization of criminal syndicates, people who abide by the law have no alternative than to confront those syndicates in the international arena," said Noble. "This is where INTERPOL's core function of operational police support services, which can facilitate co-operation between law enforcement agencies in multiple countries, proves its worth."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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