Illegal ivory trade focus of biggest ever transnational wildlife crime operation in Africa co-ordinated by INTERPOL

30 November 2009

More than two tons of illegal ivory have been seized and more than 100 people arrested in the largest-ever transnational operation targeting wildlife crime across Africa co-ordinated by INTERPOL.

Codenamed Operation Costa, the series of actions involved officers from police, national wildlife, customs and national intelligence agencies across six countries – Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Officers in all six countries carried out inspections and raids on shops and markets in addition to checks being made on suspect vehicles at border crossing points. As well as illegal elephant ivory other wildlife products, such as leopard skins, were seized in addition to weapons, ammunition and vehicles being confiscated.

“The success of Operation Costa is notable not only for the sheer volume of illegal ivory which has been recovered, which is among the biggest ever hauls recorded, but because it also clearly shows the ability and will of law enforcement to effectively tackle wildlife crime,” said Peter Younger, manager of INTERPOL’s OASIS (Operational Assistance, Services and Infrastructure Support) Africa wildlife crime programme.

“The illegal ivory trade is not just about smugglers and poachers, there are far-reaching consequences to this and all wildlife crime. Law enforcement officers have been killed, people are threatened with violence, corruption and the wider economic impact on a country are all linked to this type of crime.”

Supported by INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus and INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Nairobi, ‘Costa’ is the second in a series of such operations and will provide a strong information and intelligence gathering basis for future actions.

“While taking these illegal items off the market is important, it is not the whole story,” said Mr Younger. “Operation Costa will also enable law enforcement, both in Africa and further afield, to identify the routes being used by smugglers, their connections and ultimately lead to the arrest of other individuals involved in these crimes.”

Operation Costa was co-ordinated by INTERPOL’s OASIS Africa initiative which is funded by the German Federal Government. Additional support and funding was also provided for the operation by the Humane Society of Canada.

INTERPOL’s OASIS programme helps countries in Africa develop a global and integrated approach to fighting 21st century crime by building operational capacities for policing in the region and enhancing the ability of INTERPOL member countries to tackle crime threats nationally, regionally and globally.

Operation Costa – which was named in honour of Constantius ‘Costa’ Aloysius Mlay, the former Director of the Wildlife Division of the Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism – is the second such initiative targeting wildlife crime in Africa co-ordinated by INTERPOL. The first, Operation Baba, was conducted in November 2008 and resulted in the arrests of nearly 60 people and the seizure of one ton of illegal elephant ivory following co-ordinated actions in Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Final results from Operation Costa are still being collated and will be published when available. For additional information on national activities, please contact the enforcement agencies in the countries concerned.