100 arrested in crackdown on illegal ivory trade


AUTHORITIES IN six African countries seized more than two tonnes of ivory and arrested 100 people as part of an operation that has been described as one of the biggest ever to crack down on wildlife crime, international crime fighting organisation Interpol announced yesterday.

Operation Costa is part of wider Interpol efforts both to stop illegal trade in ivory, horns, skins and animals, and also to help African countries – in this case, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda – get better at fighting crime that cuts across borders.

The operation “clearly shows the ability and will of law enforcement to effectively tackle wildlife crime”, Peter Younger, manager of the Interpol wildlife crime programme, said in a statement.

A similar Interpol operation last year resulted in 60 arrests and the seizure of one ton of ivory.

Conservationists say poaching for ivory and rhinoceros horns has been on the rise in east Africa, driven by demand in Asian countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Some make a link with the growing number of Chinese living in Africa as their government expands business ties across the continent.

Most international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989.

Officials say poaching is on the rise in part because of a 2007 decision by countries that are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to allow southern African nations a one-time chance to sell off ivory stocks.

“The appetite in Asia was whetted and the market has not been able to fulfil the demand by the one-off sales,” said Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto.

“It creates a demand that cannot be met.”

Kenya says it lost 47 elephants in 2007 and 216 so far in 2009, though some of those deaths are attributable to drought.

The country’s elephant population has grown to 35,000 from 16,000 in the late 1980s, and continues to rise at 4 per cent a year, but Mr Udoto said it would be rising by 10 per cent each year without poaching.

“The incidence of elephant killing and ivory trade have shot through the roof,” Mr Udoto said.