Illegal ivory and rhino horn trade target of INTERPOL co-ordinated operation across southern Africa

18 May 2010

A transnational operation co-ordinated by INTERPOL targeting wildlife crime across southern Africa has resulted in the location and closure of an illegal ivory factory, the seizure of nearly 400 kilos of ivory and rhino horn with a market value of more than one million dollars, as well as the arrest of 41 people.

The two-day operation (13-14 May), codenamed Mogatle, involved nearly 200 officers from police, national wildlife, customs and national intelligence agencies across six countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – who carried out inspections and raids on markets and shops.

Checks were also made on suspect vehicles at border crossing points where for the first time in a wildlife crime operation, sniffer dogs provided by South African and Swaziland police were used at check points at the Mozambique/Swaziland border.

“The success of Operation Mogatle is not only in relation to the seizures and arrests which have been made, but is a demonstration of the commitment of national and international law enforcement and other involved agencies to working together to combat wildlife crime,” said Peter Younger, manager of INTERPOL’s OASIS (Operational Assistance, Services and Infrastructure Support) Africa wildlife crime programme.

“Taking these illegal items off the market is just the first step,” added Mr Younger. “Information gathered as part of this operation will also enable law enforcement, both in Africa and abroad, to identify smuggling routes and eventually to further arrests of other individuals involved in these crimes.

“The impact of wildlife crime is wide-ranging. People are threatened with violence, law enforcement officers have been killed while carrying out their duties, and there is the wider economic impact on a country and therefore the livelihoods of ordinary people.”

Supported by INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus and INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Harare, Operation Mogatle 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 and the Born Free Foundation.

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 Mogatle - named in honour of the late Professor Keitirangi Mogatle, assistant director of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and principle motivator behind effective wildlife law enforcement in Botswana – was the third multi-agency wildlife operation co-ordinated by INTERPOL.

The first, Operation Baba (November 2008) 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.

The second, Operation Costa (November 2009) across Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, led to the arrest of more than100 people and the recovery of 1.5 tons of ivory and hundreds of other illegal wildlife items.