International Cooperation Leads to Successful Seizures of Illicit Wildlife Products
In recent months, authorities worldwide have stepped up efforts to combat wildlife crimes such as illegal poaching of animals and illegal trade of plant and animal specimens.
In an impressive display of multilateral cooperation through regional enforcement networks and intergovernmental organizations, law enforcement officers from 62 countries collaborated to carry out Operation COBRA III in May, 2015. The Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) led the operation in close coordination with INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the CITES Secretariat, and numerous national agencies.
Operation COBRA III resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures of illicit goods across 37 countries. The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) reports that some “key successes during the operation included the arrest of a Chinese national believed to have been coordinating rhino horn smuggling from Namibia, the arrest of a notorious elephant poacher in India, and the seizure of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns in Mozambique. Over 50,000 illegal wildlife items were seized in the United Kingdom, as well as an additional 10,000 in Austria and 5,000 in Germany.”
Secretary General of CITES John E. Scanlon applauded authorities’ efforts to put an end to transnational wildlife crime. He said, “Operation COBRA III is a great example of the collaboration that is needed between multiple organizations, disciplines, and agencies to combat organized transnational wildlife crimes. It is most encouraging to see enforcement agencies working together across source, transit and destination States to combat these serious wildlife crimes, which makes it increasingly likely that these illicit activities will be detected and the criminals behind them brought to justice.”
More recently, on June 19, over one ton of confiscated ivory was crushed in Times Square in New York City in an effort to highlight the devastating impacts of illegal trade in elephant ivory. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 35,000 elephants are poached each year in order to meet global demand for ivory. This crushed ivory will be joined with six tons of ivory crushed in Denver, Colorado in 2013 in order to create an elephant memorial.
The United States is the latest country to destroy stockpiles of confiscated ivory, joining Belgium, Chad, China, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Hong Kong, China, Kenya, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates which have carried out similar events over the past 24 months. Mr. Scanlon issued a statement praising the determination of the United States and the global community to end the illegal ivory trade and other forms of wildlife trafficking. Mr. Scanlon also noted that there is still much work to be done. “The destruction of confiscated elephant ivory in New York today will not in itself put an end to the illegal trade in elephant ivory. It is, however, ensuring that no one will ever profit from this contraband and, when coupled with the seizure of ivory and the prosecution and conviction of offenders, it sends a powerful message that the U.S. does not and will not tolerate this illegal trade,” he said.