Interpol has just released details of Project Wendi – a four month operation between Jan and May – which led to the arrests of 66 ivory smugglers. The operation was targeted at the increasing poaching of elephants in West and Central Africa.
The operation also saw the seizure of almost 4,000 ivory products including 50 full tusks. But it was not just elephant tusks and ivory that were discovered in the series of raids against international wildlife traffickers. 222 live animals including parrots and crocodiles were discovered together with 148 animal parts. Many of the live animals seized were able to be returned back into the wild.
Interpol with help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) worked with local law enforcement agencies and police across 5 countries in Central and West Africa to target the criminals.
Shops and wholesalers together with targeted individuals in Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Guinea and Liberia were inspected by both police and customs officials following intelligence and investigations.
“Wendi is one of a series of operations planned to tackle this crime which threatens both biodiversity and civil society, and its success is due to the hard work of the officers on the ground and the strong cooperation between the involved agencies and organizations,” said David Higgins, Manager of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme.
“The increased poaching of elephants and trafficking of their ivory requires an equally strong response. Addressing this crime at its source, in transit and its destination is key in dismantling the criminal networks who profit at the cost of wildlife and the environment,” added Mr Higgins. [pullquote]Operation Wendi is the first frontal attack against ivory traffickers and their accomplices in Southeast Asia and Europe and is a true success that deserves to be saluted. Trafficking in ivory has reached a concerning threshold in the West African sub-region with the systematic slaughter of hundreds of elephants and rhinoceroses[/pullquote]
Before the operations began a training programme was undertaken in Abidjan which was funded by IFAW. This training passed on best practice methods and recording procedures in search and seizure techniques. The programme also saw participants able to pass on information and expertise to boost law enforcement in the other countries.
One of those supporting the training programme included Niouma Koivogui, Commissaire Principal of Guinea Police, who explained: “INTERPOL encourages its member countries by supporting them from the training to the operational phase et throughout transnational investigations, allowing countries to efficiently tackle environmental crimes and to protect populations.”
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director of IFAW France and Francophone Africa highlighted,“Elephants are under more threat today than they have been in years. This is why we need a completely coordinated effort by the international law enforcement community starting in source countries if we are to have any chance of success against the crime syndicates who are behind the slaughter of elephants for their ivory”
It is unlikely that this operation is just a one-off as Balla Traore, head of INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Abidjan describes, “Operation Wendi is the first frontal attack against ivory traffickers and their accomplices in Southeast Asia and Europe and is a true success that deserves to be saluted.”
“Trafficking in ivory has reached a concerning threshold in the West African sub-region with the systematic slaughter of hundreds of elephants and rhinoceroses.”