NAIROBI (AFP) – A tonne of ivory items and 57 suspects were netted in a four-month operation billed Africa's largest-ever crackdown on wildlife crime, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said Monday.
The crackdown -- code-named Operation Baba -- also seized cheetah, leopard, serval cat and python skins as well as hippo teeth at several markets, airports and border crossings in Congo Brazzaville, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
"All the participating countries simultaneously struck at the illegal domestic markets over the weekend in a coordinated manner to ensure that illegal ivory dealers who would try to cross borders were intercepted," KWS said in a statement.
Interpol, which co-ordinated the operation, said similar crackdowns could be carried out in the future in other regions affected by smuggling.
"Co-operation among countries in east, west and southern Africa against wildlife crime has set an inspired example," said Giuliano Zaccardelli, the Interpol head of operational assistance and infrastructure support.
"Similar operations could also be conducted in Asia, the Americas and in any other region where (the activity is) criminal," he added.
In Kenya, at least 113 pieces of ivory weighing 358 kilogrammes were seized and 36 poachers and brokers -- including three Chinese nationals -- were arrested in the operation.
"Project Baba was a huge success in Kenya. We in KWS strongly believe that ivory trade fuels illegal killing of elephants. The project was, therefore, a blessing to the African range states whose elephants have declined tremendously over the years," KWS director Julius Kipng'etich said.
The operation was named in honour of Gilbert Baba, a Ghanaian ranger killed a decade ago by poachers in the line of duty.
China has emerged as the largest importer of smuggled ivory mainly sourced from Africa despite a 1991 ban on importing elephant tusks, according TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring organisation.
China is also one of the world's biggest markets for ivory, which is traditionally used to make family seals to stamp documents as well as decorative antiques.
Chinese traders were the biggest buyers at a controversial series of auctions in four southern African countries recently in which 102 tonnes of government-owned ivory stocks were sold for just over 15 million dollars (12 million euros).
The legal sale, the first since 1999, came from elephants who died of natural causes or were culled to control their population.
The one-off sales, sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), are aimed at funding efforts to protect wildlife but conservationists have warned they could encourage poaching
6 months ago