Asia and Africa join hands to crack down on wildlife crime syndicates
Brussels, 19 February 2013
Customs, police and wildlife officers from Asia, Africa and the United States mounted a successful cross-border enforcement operation, codenamed "COBRA", to crack down on wildlife crime syndicates. The month-long operation from 6 January to 5 February 2013 targeted species under serious threat, such as big cats, elephants, rhinos, pangolins and great apes, and was described as "an international, intelligence-driven operation aimed at dismantling organized wildlife crime syndicates with significant results and the prospect for more."
Operation COBRA yielded hundred of arrests and resulted in the seizure of assorted wildlife specimens, such as shahtoosh (1550 kg – representing the killing of almost 10,000 Tibetan antelope to harvest the wool), red sander wood (42,000 kg), elephant ivory (6,500 kg), live snakes (2,600), hornbill beaks (324), pangolins (102), pangolin scales (800 kg), rhino horns (22), rhino horn carvings (4), tiger trophies (10), leopard trophies (7), and elephant meat (31 kg). The haul also included claws and teeth of protected felid animals and plant species, as well as assorted equipment including fire arms and ammunition taken recovered from poachers.
This was a welcome and innovative initiative, the first international effort to focus on the sharing of investigation information in real time among Customs and other law enforcement agencies of implicated countries and partnering institutions towards curtailing rampant wildlife crime. COBRA facilitated cooperation among range, transit and consumer countries where significant seizures of contraband wildlife specimens and the arrests of suspects were recorded. Specialized investigation techniques, such as controlled deliveries, were promoted and a number of follow up investigations into seizures were initiated.
"Operation COBRA focused on the quality of investigations over the quantity of seizures, so the vital intelligence gathered by the team from this operation will be very useful in ongoing joint investigations," declared Wan Ziming, Director of Law Enforcement and Training at the CITES Management Authority of China. Senior Superintendent Uttam Kumar Karkee from Nepal Police pointed out the necessity of the international community’s joint efforts to fight effectively against wildlife crime and added, "COBRA has proved itself to be an excellent model for fighting transnational crime."
Adan Alio from LATF said, "Our international team decided to focus on tracking and dismantling criminal networks, and until the top criminals are brought to justice, poaching and illegal trade will continue." Deputy Chief Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement commented that "this operation sends a powerful message to poachers and smugglers across the globe that the world’s endangered wildlife and plant resources are not theirs for the taking. He went on to congratulate every officer, country and organization that contributed to the operation and related investigations, stressing that "only as global partners can we protect the world’s wildlife."
John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), stated that "this is an important operation that has brought together a wide-range of law enforcement authorities from across range, transit and consumer countries." Continuing, Scanlon said, "Authorities demonstrated a strong commitment and willingness to use specialized investigative techniques, which are essential to combating transnational organized wildlife crime," and added, "the operation merits the CITES Secretary-General’s Certificate of Commendation."
"Operation COBRA clearly demonstrates the success that can be achieved in tackling environment crime syndicates through coordinated inter-regional cooperation with international backing," said the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Kunio Mikuriya. "The global Customs community will be pleased at the stunning results achieved during the operation and will be spurred on to even greater heights to ensure that cross-border wildlife crime is effectively and efficiently stamped out to protect threatened species for future generations," he added.
The Lusaka Agreement Secretariat acknowledged the efforts by participating Asian and African countries and their regional institutions that will go a long way to enhancing understanding of the need for both continents to work together in addressing common wildlife conservation challenges. The operation was proposed by NICE-CG and ASEAN-WEN in 2012, and organized by China, South Africa and the U.S. in cooperation with ASEAN-WEN, SAWEN and LATF with the assistance of the WCO, the CITES Secretariat and INTERPOL.
China’s National Interagency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group (NICE-CG), the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), Nepal Police – representing the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), the South African Police Service, India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Indonesia Police, Vietnam Environmental Police, Royal Thai Police, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the World Customs Organization’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) for the Asia/Pacific region worked jointly as an International Coordination Team (ICT) based in Bangkok under the leadership of China.
Participating countries included Botswana, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nepal, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, the U.S., Vietnam and Zambia. The FREELAND Foundation provided the operation with information on wildlife crime that was collected over several years. COBRA was financially supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the African Elephant Conservation Fund, Royal Thai Police, the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the FREELAND Foundation, with in-kind contributions by participating countries.