Lyon, France -- More than 240 kg of elephant ivory and 856 timber logs have been seized and 660 people arrested during an INTERPOL-coordinated operation combating ivory trafficking and illegal logging across Southern and Eastern Africa.
As part of INTERPOL's Project Wisdom and Project Leaf, the operation 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. Also seized were 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.
The month-long operation (26 September - 26 October), supported by the Wildcat Foundation and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), involved wildlife enforcement officers, forest authorities, park rangers, police and customs officers from five countries ‒ Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
'Through this INTERPOL operation, we have identified major networks involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory and we have also seized significant amounts of ivory, as well as illegal shipments of timber and charcoal,' said Heri Lugaye, Assistant Superintendent of Police at the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 'We are still following intelligence generated from this operation and expect to make further seizures based on these collaborative efforts,' he added.
David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL's Environmental Security unit, also underlined the importance of information sharing and intelligence analysis. '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,' said Mr Higgins.
'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 Mr Higgins.
Ahead of the operation 26 officers from Mozambique took part in a training programme at INTERPOL's National Central Bureau in Maputo supported by the Portuguese Military Police, where they were updated on the latest wildlife investigation tools and techniques. 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.
In early November two further interventions were made in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar with more than 1,700 pieces of ivory weighing nearly five tonnes seized.
An INTERPOL Investigative Support Team was deployed to Eastern Africa to provide member countries with additional investigative and analytical expertise and to assess environmental crimes in the region, focusing on elephant poaching and illicit trafficking in ivory.
The data collected from the operation and the recent seizures will be compiled, analysed and used as guidance in future enforcement efforts regionally and internationally.