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January 26, 2012

"Warning to Ivory Dealers: You Are Being Targeted"

  • Demand for ivory leads to poaching. istock

by Bill Clark

INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme is preparing another multi-country law enforcement operation targeting ivory dealers. We won’t tell you when, where or how it will happen, but ivory dealers: take note.

The new operation, being conducted as part of Project WISDOM, is presently in the preparatory phase. Law enforcement agencies in several countries have created national task forces that are methodically and meticulously negotiating the specifics of national plans for their parts of the operation. Careful preparations are vital to success.

INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme is coaching officers from each participating country with advice and “lessons learned” during previous operations. It is important to shepherd each participating country along the preparatory process at about the same pace, so they will all be ready just about at the same time. Then they will be able to act together against ivory dealers on the same hour of the same day everywhere.

Preparations for such an operation are complex. Fortunately, INTERPOL has gone through this process four times before, with reasonably good results. During the past three years, Operations BABA, COSTA, MOGATLE and AHMED have resulted in the arrests of 254 ivory dealers and the breakup of dozens of syndicates. About three tons of raw ivory were seized, along with more than 30,000 carved items.

Those operations also recovered other wildlife contraband—leopard skins, bushmeat, turtle shells and more illegal products. Law enforcement officers also seized lots of illegal firearms, ammunition and other goods. Two illegal ivory workshops were targeted, shut down and dismantled.

Those operations helped to disrupt some of the worldwide trafficking in elephant ivory. “But they weren’t enough,” commented David Higgins, manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme. “It is very clear that the pace of elephant poaching has intensified. The market demand for illegal ivory has grown substantially. We must meet these new challenges with increased efforts against the criminals who exploit elephants illegally.”

Mr. Higgins noted that in addition to scoring important successes against ivory syndicates, the previous operations also provided important lessons learned. “Experience has taught us better ways to do things,” he said. “We now have better techniques, and improved mechanisms for international cooperation. Similarly, we have also learned what doesn’t work, and how to avoid wasting efforts on unproductive ideas. We’re becoming more efficient. That’s good news for the elephants.”

“We want to thank Humane Society International for supporting us,” he continued. “Many of our partners are developing countries that simply do not have the resources required to participate in such a large and complex operation. HSI has stepped in with generous spirit and become an important partner in INTERPOL’s efforts against the illegal trade in elephant ivory.”

“We are now preparing for this next operation. It will be larger and more sophisticated than the previous ones,” Higgins concluded. “That, plus our own improved skills and experience, should lead to even better results.”

INTERPOL presently has a pretty solid idea of when the new operation will take place, as well as where and how it will be conducted. The ivory traffickers will learn these things too, on the day the operation is launched.

Prepared for Humane Society International by William Clark, INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme Consultant