INTERPOL’s largest ever transnational operation targeting criminal organizations behind the illegal trafficking of ivory has resulted in more than 200 arrests and the seizure of nearly two tonnes of contraband elephant ivory.
The three-month long Operation Worthy, which involved 14 countries across Eastern, Southern and Western Africa also resulted in the recovery of more than 20 kilos of rhinoceros horn in addition to 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. Firearms including AK-47s, G3s and M16s were also seized by law enforcement officers.
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.
“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.
Ahead of the operation, a training programme hosted by Botswana and sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) brought together officers from the participating countries to update them on the latest search and seizure techniques and also to allow them to directly exchange information and expertise.
“Thousands of elephants are butchered for their ivory every year and the situation continues to worsen. 2011 was the worst year on record for seizures with over 23 tonnes of ivory seized,” said Kelvin Alie, IFAW’s Wildlife Crime Director. “These animals suffer terribly as they are cruelly killed or wounded so that their skins, tusks, quills and other body parts can be torn off and trafficked.”
A key element of Operation Worthy was building national inter-agency cooperation through National Environmental Security Taskforces (NESTs) which bring together representatives of police, customs, environmental agencies, revenue departments, transport, health agencies, prosecutors and INTERPOL National Central Bureaus (NCBs).
NESTs ensure an innovative and coordinated law enforcement response to the sophisticated and organized criminal networks at national levels and through the INTERPOL NCBs, act alongside other NESTs at regional and international levels to combat globalized environmental crime.
Operation Worthy was part of INTERPOL’s Project WISDOM, an initiative against elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn poaching funded by the UK Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and IFAW.
Countries which participated in Operation Worthy: Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe.