The illegal ivory trade is the biggest threat to elephants in the wild.

The issues

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.

The response

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.

Operational support

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.


Project Wisdom - news
20 March 2017

INTERPOL issues Red Notice against suspected ivory smuggler

02 March 2017

Anti-wildlife trafficking operation results in global arrests and seizures

20 January 2017

INTERPOL launches new project targeting African-Asian wildlife crime links

22 September 2016

INTERPOL holds advanced training course for wildlife crime analysts

04 May 2016

Organized crime networks behind ivory and rhino horn trafficking targeted in East Africa

22 December 2015

Elephant ivory and rhino horn trafficking targeted across Africa in Operation Worthy II

14 October 2015

Switzerland alerts police worldwide on new environmental crime smuggling route

28 July 2015

Elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking cases addressed at INTERPOL meeting

05 June 2015

INTERPOL operation against wildlife trafficking marks World Environment Day

03 March 2015

INTERPOL encourages global action on World Wildlife Day

23 February 2015

Zambia hosts INTERPOL training session against wildlife crime

16 February 2015

Nepal’s top wildlife criminal nabbed in Malaysia

07 October 2014

INTERPOL announces formation of dedicated environmental crime team in Africa

19 September 2014

INTERPOL holds wildlife crime training in Namibia

24 June 2014

Illegal trade in wildlife and timber products finances criminal and militia groups, threatening security and sustainable development

25 February 2014

Response to elephant poaching and ivory trafficking focus of new INTERPOL report

06 December 2013

Nepal requests INTERPOL Red Notice for wanted rhino poacher

29 November 2013

Ivory and illegal timber seized in INTERPOL-coordinated operation across Africa

19 July 2013

INTERPOL testing of tusk DNA from seized ivory in Sri Lanka to help combat wildlife crime

22 July 2013

Ivory trafficking in West and Central Africa targeted in INTERPOL operation with IFAW support

07 March 2013

Online ivory trade worth millions, INTERPOL report reveals

Operation Wendi

Operation Worthy

INTERPOL - IFAW Operation Worthy 2012

INTERPOL - IFAW Environmental Crime Training Programme

BBC Panorama ‘Ivory Wars: Out of Africa’ (Part 1)