TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire -06/19/12)- INTERPOL have arrested more than 200 people, seized almost 2 tonnes of contraband ivory, 20kg of rhino horn and military grade automatic weapons in an operation that spanned three months and 14 African countries.
Operation WORTHY saw INTERPOL and IFAW (www.ifaw.org - the International Fund for Animal Welfare) team up to target criminal organizations behind the illegal trafficking of ivory. Also seized were lion, leopard and cheetah pelts, crocodile and python skins, live tropical birds, turtles, and other protected species destined to be illegally trafficked around the world.
More than 320 officers from a range of agencies including police, customs, environmental protection agencies, veterinary services, airport security, ministries of tourism and national prosecuting authorities took part in Operation Worthy which saw interventions carried out at markets, ports, shops, border crossings and during roadside checks.
Canada is one of the leading countries which supports INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Program through a grant from Environment Canada, and Environment Canada was also part of the partnership with IFAW and INTERPOL. Prior to this raid, in August 2011, Environment Canada designed and delivered wildlife law enforcement training to twenty-seven law enforcement officers from eleven southern African countries.
"IFAW believes that one elephant killed for its ivory is one too many. We will not stand by while elephants are needlessly slaughtered," said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW's Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme. "Some range states are doing their part in hosting and protecting their elephants - the rest of us must act to support them in these efforts. That means developed countries joining IFAW in training wildlife officers, researching the illegal trade and ensuring the safety of our common natural heritage."
"This has been to date the most wide-ranging operation coordinated by INTERPOL against the illegal ivory trade, not just in terms of seizures and arrests, but also in targeting the criminal organizations making millions of dollars through the killing and destruction of wildlife and their habitat, and associated crimes such as murder, corruption and money laundering," said David Higgins, manager of INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme.
"The intelligence gathered during Operation Worthy will enable us to identify the links between the poachers and the global networks driving and facilitating the crime. By identifying their international trafficking routes, arresting those involved at higher levels, and suppressing the crime at its source, in transit, and at its destination we are making a real contribution to the conservation of the world's environment and biodiversity," concluded Mr Higgins.
Countries which participated in Operation Worthy: Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
At the same time as Operation WORTHY was ongoing the State Forestry Police Bureau (FPB) in China received intelligence from IFAW which allowed them to uncover 700 cases of illegal wildlife trade during a recent crackdown on websites and antique markets. They busted 13 gangs, punished 1,031 illegal traders, seized over 130,000 wild animals and their animal products. A total of 7,155 high-street shops and 628 websites selling banned animals were shut down and 1,607 related online messages were removed in the action.
The Chinese operation involved an astounding 100,000 officers from multiple provinces across the country.
At the request of the FPB's IFAW is currently helping them recheck the reported illegal listings and will report to them again for follow-up enforcement if there's any still found from those websites.
"IFAW is proud that our efforts and intelligence were an integral part of this impressive crackdown by Chinese authorities on wildlife trafficking," said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director. "The Chinese authorities are to be congratulated for tackling this issue directly and IFAW remains ready to help with more intelligence."
Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.
IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006. Just this month IFAW has conducted trainings in Bhutan, Congo Brazzaville, Dubai and Kazahkstan.
High Definition still images and video can be downloaded here: ifawimages.com
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
IFAW Global Communications Lead, Seals
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Twitter: @IFAWCanada or @MichelleCliffe