Operation COBRA III, an international law enforcement operation undertaken in May 2015 with the aim of combating wildlife crime and bringing criminals to justice, resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures, including of elephant ivory, medicinal plants, rhinoceros horns, pangolins, rosewood and tortoises.
18 June 2015: Operation COBRA III, an international law enforcement operation undertaken in May 2015 with the aim of combating wildlife crime and bringing criminals to justice, resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures, including of elephant ivory, medicinal plants, rhinoceros horns, pangolins, rosewood and tortoises.
The operation was organized by regional enforcement networks and intergovernmental organizations under the chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) Law Enforcement Extension Office.
The arrests and seizures took place in more than 37 countries, and included: the arrests of a Chinese national accused of coordinating rhinoceros horn smuggling from Namibia and an elephant poacher in India; and the seizure of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhinoceros horns in Mozambique. Over 50,000 illegal wildlife items were confiscated in the UK, 10,000 in Austria and 5,000 in Germany. Illegal items were also seized in China, Singapore and South Africa.
The ASEAN-WEN Law Enforcement Extension Office Director, Vatanarak Suranartyuth, reiterated that the operation’s success was due to the commitment of all partners to exchange intelligence and tackle the illegal wildlife trade across source, transit and consumer countries. Officers from customs, police, forestry, wildlife and other law enforcement agencies from 62 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe collaborated on the endeavor.
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the operation’s success brings to light the “widespread and intricate network of criminals” that are profiting from wildlife trafficking, and expressed hope that emphasis is placed on the prosecutions that must now follow.
John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), commended the collaboration undertaken among multiple organizations, disciplines and agencies to combat organized transnational wildlife crimes, noting that such partnerships increase the likelihood that illicit activities will be discovered and criminals will be brought to justice.
ICCWC contributed to the operation by providing financial, operational and technical support. CENcomm, the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) secure and encrypted communication tool, enabled investigators to exchange intelligence and information, and target and track suspicious cargoes, poachers and traffickers. In addition, officers from INTERPOL, the WCO Asia/Pacific Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) and the WCO East and South Africa RILO worked with national law enforcement agencies and wildlife enforcement. The CITES Secretariat and UNODC also lent their support.
Further arrests and prosecutions are expected, as follow up investigations resulting from the operation continue. [CITES Press Release] [EUROPOL COBRA III Website] [Natural Resources Policy & Practice Reporting on COBRA]