DURBAN - Interpol reported that an eight-week Interpol operation against wildlife crime and trafficking resulted in arrests and seizures across Asia and Africa.
The operation, codenamed Golden Strike, ended late in 2021 and targeted criminals and networks smuggling wildlife protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from Africa to Asia.
Interpol said countries worked together to identify Interpol-wanted fugitives known to travel frequently between Africa, Asia, the US and France, and who were wanted for their involvement in trafficking ivory, rhino horn, pangolin and tiger parts between the two continents.
It said intelligence shared between the 23 participating countries ahead of operations enabled investigators to target emerging wildlife trafficking routes, with officers conducting inspections at roadblocks and land, sea and airport border points throughout the August-September tactical phase.
Interpol’s organised and emerging crime director Ilana de Wild said: “The world’s fourth-largest illegal trade – wildlife and forestry crime – goes hand in hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and even murder, with organised crime groups using the same routes to smuggle protected wildlife as they do people, weapons, drugs and other illegal products.”
“Strong, coordinated responses such as operation Golden Strike are needed to address the activities of transnational organised crime groups involved in wildlife crime and to disrupt illegal trade chains across range, transit and destination states.”
Interpol said although results were still coming in, the operation has so far seen seizures of several thousand wildlife products and the identification of some 100 suspects across 23 countries, triggering worldwide arrests and further investigations linked to wildlife trafficking.
- 1 202 ivory pieces weighing more than four tonnes
- 423kg and 78 scales of pangolin species
- 50 rhino horns weighing 72kg
- 46kg totoaba bladders
- More than 3 785 pieces and 52kg of molluscs
- 42 shark teeth
- 33 red corals
- 1 336 other CITES protected species
- 3 turtles and tortoises (live specimens)
- More than 120 birds (live specimens)
Interpol’s National Central Bureau head in Beijing, Duan Daqi, said: “Operation Golden Strike has provided a platform for the participating countries to take action in synchronicity, signalling the strong resolution of police authorities in combating such crimes.”
Operation Golden Strike is funded by the government of China.
Interpol said, illustrating that traditional routes continue to be used by the organised crime groups behind wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia, Malaysia authorities seized 50 rhino horns arriving illegally from Mozambique.
It said international police cooperation between South Africa and Malaysia saw the arrest and prosecution of two suspects smuggling 45kg of rhino horns between the two continents.
Qatari authorities seized 10kg of rhino horns from Mozambique bound for Vietnam, illustrating how wildlife products are increasingly transiting the Middle East countries on their way to Asia.
Operations also saw an increase in pan-African trafficking, such as a seizure in the Democratic Republic of Congo of 50 kg of elephant tusks and 60 grey parrots bound for Uganda.
With pandemic confinement and travel restrictions over the past 18 months forcing wildlife criminals to shift from physical to digital wildlife markets, investigations saw an increase in wildlife crime committed over e-commerce sites, social media platforms and WhatsApp groups.
As a result, Thailand closed down 12 sites, and 20 are under investigation.
Results also highlighted an increase in the use of birdcages to conceal and smuggle ivory, as witnessed by the Singaporean Immigration and Checks Authority, who seized a birdcage consignment containing 256 concealed ivory pieces.
Less than a month later, they intercepted a similar shipment containing 184 ivory pieces also concealed in birdcages.
Intelligence gathered during the operation and entered into Interpol’s wide range of police databases has triggered associated investigations ongoing in other parts of the world, particularly in relation to cyber-enabled wildlife cases.
Interpol said further arrests and prosecutions are anticipated as ongoing global investigations progress worldwide.