The illegal ivory trade is the biggest threat to elephants in the wild.
Between 1970 and 1989, the worldwide demand for ivory caused elephant populations to decline to dangerously low levels.
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibited international commercial trade in all elephant ivory.
However, since 2010, record numbers of elephants have been reported poached, and record amounts of contraband ivory have been seized by authorities, each year surpassing the previous.
Since 2008, African and Asian rhinoceros populations have also been experiencing unprecedented intensification of poaching. Two sub-species, the Northern White Rhinoceros and the Western Black Rhinoceros, have been shot into extinction during the past five years.
This situation represents a major call for action for the international law enforcement community to combat the illegal trade of ivory and rhinoceros horns.
Project Wisdom supports and enhances the governance and law enforcement capacity for the conservation of elephants and rhinoceros.
Among others, the project has the following core objectives:
- Encourage communication, cooperation and collaboration with respect to intelligence exchange, cross-border investigations and training courses;
- Contribute to the apprehension of criminals and organized groups;
- Develop a global picture of the criminal activity hindering the ongoing conservation of elephants and rhinoceros;
- Reduce wildlife crime in Africa;
- Support and coordinate law enforcement operations;
- Provide case-oriented assistance;
- Emphasize deterrence as well as intelligence-led law enforcement;
- Contribute to broader civil objectives.
A global objective is to help develop effective governance and rule of law and improve the quality of the criminal justice response to this type of crime. The aim is to empower and instil ownership of the issue into the entire departmental structure. Linking wildlife crime to issues associated with national security, economy and health is fundamental to achieving this result.
Project Wisdom also works to assure a more comprehensive application of law enforcement resources, such as improvements in governance and rule of law. Trafficking in ivory and rhinoceros horn has become intimately linked to issues involving national security, and social and economic stability.
Since 2008, INTERPOL has coordinated seven operations targeting ivory and rhinoceros horn traffickers – Baba, Costa, Mogatle, Ahmed, Worthy, Wendi and Wildcat – which collectively resulted in the arrests of 1,180 persons charged with ivory and rhinoceros horn-related offences.
Two ivory factories were identified and shut-down, conviction rates exceeded 80 per cent, and the operations recovered more than five tons of raw ivory and around 50,000 carved ivory items such as bracelets, signature seals and cigarette holders. Twenty kilograms of rhinoceros horn were seized in Operation Worthy alone.
Large numbers of live parrots and crocodiles, big cat pelts, snake and crocodile skins, bushmeat and other illegal wildlife products were also seized, along with non-wildlife contraband, including illegal military firearms such as AK-47s, G3s and M16s.
INTERPOL - IFAW Operation Worthy 2012
INTERPOL - IFAW Environmental Crime Training Programme
BBC Panorama ‘Ivory Wars: Out of Africa’ (Part 1)