Major successes for largest ever global operation against wildlife crime
And it was a major success – with the operation linked to the arrest of 300 suspects and the seizure of over 600 illegal shipments around the world.
Along with the detention of so many poachers and traffickers, including several kingpins, the operation led to the recovery of 12 tonnes of elephant ivory and 119 rhino horns as well as large amounts of other illegal wildlife products – thanks to effective collaboration and intelligence sharing between law enforcement teams and agencies from 62 participating countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
“The success of COBRA III demonstrates the importance of international cooperation in the fight against wildlife crime and proves that wildlife trafficking is becoming an increasingly risky business for criminals,” said Elisabeth McLellan, WWF Head Wildlife Crime Initiative. “It is encouraging to see so many of the world’s law enforcement agencies collaborating to tackle wildlife crime, and particularly the transnational organized crime networks behind the current surge in illegal wildlife trade.”
Operation Cobra III targeted transnational wildlife and forest crime, primarily in relation to elephants, rhinos, pangolins, great apes, big cats, birds, fish, reptiles, timber and other forest products.
Coordinated by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force the Association and the Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network, the operation was backed by numerous international agencies such as Europol and INTERPOL – as well as by countries from South Africa to China to the USA.
In Europe, the operation was supported by Europol, which facilitated operational information exchange and coordinated the activities of police, customs, forestry and other law enforcement authorities from 25 participating EU Member States.
This impressive collaboration resulted in the seizure across Europe of over 11,000 dead and live specimens, almost 2000 parts and products, and over 6 tonnes of timber, plants and animal parts.
“The trafficking of endangered species remains a problem in the EU and beyond, and it is often underestimated and not given the recognition or priority it deserves,” said Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. “Poaching and the illegal trade in species are dominated by organised crime groups, who operate worldwide and make huge profits from these activities. We will continue our efforts to fight these cruel crimes, to ensure a safe environment for endangered species in Europe and all over the world.”
Major global seizures during COBRA III included over 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns in Mozambique.
In Europe, seizures ranged from over 90 kg of coral and more than 50 kg of animal parts in Spain to 50 kg of raw ivory in France to 10,000 dead seahorses and over 400 live turtles and tortoises in the UK.
"We commend the efforts of the UK Border Force, National Wildlife Crime Unit and Europol in the success of this operation," said Sarah Goddard, WWF-UK Species Policy Officer. "It highlights the role the UK plays as a transit and destination country for illegal wildlife products. But strong enforcement effort is just part of the solution to change the dynamics of this low risk, high profit crime: that’s why WWF is calling for more consistent and commensurate sentences here in the UK for such wildlife criminals to act as a deterrent to future crimes."
Bonaventure Ebayi, Director of Lusaka Agreement Task Force, said that he was delighted by the results of COBRA III but noted the alarming level and frequency at which illegal wildlife trade is taking place within and across the regions. He added that this was being aggravated by many forces, including corruption and fraud along the illicit trade chain.
The scale of the operation and the large number of arrests and seizures points to the seriousness of wildlife crime – a fact that is increasingly being recognised by leaders around the world.
“Wildlife crime is a threat to sustainable development, and it has to be combatted globally,” said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. “This operation sends a clear signal that the EU and its Member States are serious about wildlife crime and are ready to act with our partners worldwide. We are currently developing strategies for more targeted support for wildlife conservation, and a new EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking is due by the end of the year.’’
The breadth of the operation is clear from the list of participating agencies, which includes: ASEAN-WEN, LATF, SA-WEN, INTERPOL, WCO, RILO AP, RILO ESA, UNODC, CITES, India Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, China National Interagency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group, ASEAN Police, EUROPOL and US Fish Wildlife Service.
INTERPOL financially supported the hosting of the International Coordinating Team in Bangkok, which comprised officers drawn from wildlife, Customs, Police, Forestry and other law enforcement agencies as well as inter-governmental agencies.