Operation COBRA II:African, Asian and North American law enforcement officers team up to apprehend wildlife criminals

11 February 2014

Brussels, 11 February 2014

Press Release

Operation COBRA II results in the seizure of 36 rhino horns, three metric tons of elephant ivory, 10,000 turtles, and 1,000 skins of protected species, as well as 10,000 European eels and more than 200 metric tons of rosewood logs, dealing a huge blow to criminals involved in the highly lucrative trade in illegal wildlife.

More than 400 criminals,including wildlife trafficking kingpins, were arrested in Asia and Africa with investigations still ongoing in many countries, thanks to the efforts of law enforcement officers from 28 countries who took part in the one-month operation that targeted wildlife criminals in January 2014.

During the Operation, Customs, police and wildlife authorities from participating countries exchanged real-time intelligence on a daily basis and accumulated new intelligence on poaching and trafficking syndicates, thereby arming their governments with increasingly clearer targets in order to continue investigations.

A cooperative spirit and good case management were the hallmarks of COBRA II, demonstrated by three examples: China and Kenya joining hands to arrest and deport a notorious wildlife smuggler from Kenya to China for prosecution; Hong Kong seizing and repatriating 2,700 confiscated pig-nose turtles to Indonesia;and Uganda collecting samples from confiscated ivory for DNA analysis.

"Well-coordinated and focused enforcement operations can deliver the kind of results that governments and the public expect as part of our mandate to protect wildlife," said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, stressing that "Operation COBRA II is just another good example of how outcomes can be maximized through cooperation."

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) – comprising the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the WCO – delivered a two-day training workshop to officers that participated in COBRA II, before the operational phase of the operation.

Officers were trained in the use of tools and services available to them from ICCWC partner agencies among other things, and the training was supported by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN).

CENcomm, the WCO’s secure and encrypted communication tool, was used during COBRA II to exchange crucial intelligence and information, and to coordinate operational activities. The Operation was coordinated by two International Coordination Teams (ICTs) based in Nairobi, Kenya and Bangkok, Thailand respectively.

The WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) for the Asia/Pacific region and the East and Southern Africa region sent officers to both ICTs. INTERPOL and the CITES Secretariat coordinated follow-up investigations into several seizures, including the collection of samples of confiscated specimens for DNA profiling.

Participating countries included Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong), the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mozambique, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, Tanzania, the United States, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Operation was financially supported principally by the US State Department’s Bureau of Narcotics and International Law Enforcement Affairs, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives implemented by the Canadian Government and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) provided additional financial support, as did participating countries.

The Freeland Foundation, an international counter-trafficking organization and the LATF mobilized the financial support and provided logistical and training support, as well as tip-off information on wildlife trafficking syndicates.

The CITES Secretary General's Certificate of Commendation will be awarded to the authorities that participated in Operation COBRA II, in recognition of their significant contribution to the fight against wildlife crime. In 2013, COBRA I participants were also awarded a CITES Certificate of Commendation: http://cites.org/eng/news/sundry/2014/20140210_operation_COBRA_ii.php.