Seven smugglers involved in illegal ivory trade between Uganda and Singapore have been arrested following an 18-month investigation by African and Asian law enforcement officials, a counter-trafficking organisation said.
The operation netted a top Kenyan customs officer and shipping agents who facilitated the covert ivory pipeline, highlighting progress in Africa on cross-border collaboration by law enforcement agencies, Freeland, the anti-trafficking organisation supporting the operation, said.
Thousands of African elephants are killed for their tusks every year, leading to drop of 20 to 30% in numbers on the continent over the last decade.
Environmentalists say law enforcement agencies are increasingly disrupting smuggling networks.
“These arrests reveal how smuggling has been orchestrated,” Freeland chairman Kraisak Choonhavan, a prominent Thai politician, said in a statement.
Freeland has been training a network of African investigators and facilitating co-operation with Asian counterparts.
Those arrested were linked to a seizure in March 2014 of a ton of ivory in Singapore. That shipment was believed to have originated in Uganda and shipped out of Kenya.
“We hope the investigation will now continue in Asia to find the big buyers who sponsor the killing. Africa is now ahead of Asia in going beyond seizures and making meaningful arrests of wildlife criminals,” Choonhavan said.
Although the operation focussed on ivory smuggling, Freeland said a wildlife trafficking kingpin on Interpol’s wanted ‘Red Notice’ list involved in smuggling pangolin scales was arrested and extradited to Tanzania.
Pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, making the creatures one of the most widely trafficked wild animals in the world.