Interpol seizes tonnes of illegal ivory, timber in Africa
NAIROBI, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- International police organization Interpol said Friday it seized more than 240 kg of elephant ivory and 856 timber logs and arrested 660 suspects during a month-long coordinated operation across southern and eastern Africa.
In a statement, Interpol said the security operation which was aimed at combating ivory trafficking and illegal logging also seized 20 kg of rhino horns, 302 bags of charcoal, 637 firearms, nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition, 30 chainsaws, 200 kilos of cannabis and khat, 65 pellets of heroin, 47 animal parts and 44 vehicles.
Heri Lugaye, Assistant Superintendent of Police at the Interpol National Central Bureau in Tanzania, said the Sept. 26-Oct. 26 operation identified major networks involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory during the operation.
"We have also seized significant amounts of ivory, as well as illegal shipments of timber and charcoal," Lugaye in a statement received in Nairobi.
"We are still following intelligence generated from this operation and expect to make further seizures based on these collaborative efforts," he added.
Concern is growing among conservationists that the endangered African elephant is currently grappling with what could be the worst crisis to ever hit them since 1989 when international commercial trade in ivory was prohibited.
Wildlife conservationists say rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 20 months.
Kenya has invested in state of the art technology to strengthen the fight against wildlife poaching. The introduction of scanners and sniffer dogs at border points, airports and seaports is expected to minimize smuggling of ivory and rhinoceros horns.
The police organization said one of the key aims of the operation was to strengthen national and regional capacity to protect elephants and rhinoceros facing extinction due to poaching and illegal trade in ivory and horns.
Interpol seized 1,700 pieces of ivory weighing nearly five tonnes seized early this month Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar after deploying an Interpol Investigative Support Team to Eastern Africa to provide member countries with additional investigative and analytical expertise.
The team was also deployed in the East African region to assess environmental crimes in the region, focusing on elephant poaching and illicit trafficking in ivory.
The operation which was conducted as part of Interpol's Project Wisdom and Project Leaf, jointly targeted ivory smuggling and illegal logging, with smugglers often concealing ivory inside charcoal containers or welded chambers of trucks used to transport logs across borders.
The month-long operation involved enforcement officers, forest authorities, park rangers, police and customers officers from Tanzania, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique
"These operations bring in a great deal of information and intelligence on not only where and how these crimes are being committed, but also about the individuals and networks behind them, " David Higgins, head of Interpol's Environmental Security Unit.
"Through analysis and comparison with information stored in Interpol's global databases, this enables law enforcement to obtain a clearer picture of how to more effectively target resources and disrupt the transnational crime networks involved," added Higgins.