Operation WENDI: IFAW and INTERPOL team up to dismantle ivory trafficking in West and Central Africa

Jul 22, 2013, 09:47 ET from International Fund for Animal Welfare

YARMOUTH PORT, Mass., July 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Operation WENDI saw INTERPOL and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) team up to target criminal organizations behind the illegal trafficking of ivory in West and Central African countries including the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Guinea Conakry.

The law enforcement agencies involved in the five-month-long operation coordinated by INTERPOL and supported by IFAW  have arrested 66 people, seized 50 ivory tusks, 3,918 ivory items, 88 military grade weapons and $40k USD in cash. Also seized were 148 animal parts and 222 live animals including crocodiles and parrots destined to be illegally trafficked around the world.

"Elephants are under more threat today than they have been in years, this is why we need a completely coordinated effort by the international law enforcement community starting in source countries if we are to have any chance of success against the crime syndicates who are behind the slaughter of elephants for their ivory," said Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, Director of IFAW France and Francophone Africa.

Ahead of the operation, a training programme hosted by Ivory Coast and sponsored by IFAW brought together officers from participating countries to learn the latest in search and seizure techniques and allow them to exchange information and expertise.

"WENDI is one of a series of operations planned to tackle this crime which threatens both biodiversity and civil society, and its success is due to the hard work of the officers on the ground and the strong cooperation between the involved agencies and organizations," said David Higgins, Manager of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme.

"The increased poaching of elephants and trafficking of their ivory requires an equally strong response. Addressing this crime at its source, in transit and its destination is key in dismantling the criminal networks who profit at the cost of wildlife and the environment," added Mr. Higgins.

The last three years have seen elephant populations decimated across the African continent. In 2012 alone, it is estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants were killed for their ivory. 2012 was also the worst year on record for large-scale ivory seizures, with 34 tonnes of ivory seized in illegal trade – the biggest ever in the 24 years since detailed records began, and outstripping by 35 per cent 2011's record of 24.3 tonnes.

Earlier this month, four and a half tonnes of ivory were seized in Mombasa, Kenya in less than one week.

"Thousands of elephants are butchered for their ivory every year and the situation continues to worsen. Repressive operations such as operation WENDI, followed up with lawsuits and their resulting convictions, allow the world to see that illegal trade in wildlife is under no circumstance tolerated," said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW's Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme.

In May, IFAW and INTERPOL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at INTERPOL's international headquarters in Lyon, France. This was the first ever MoU signed by INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme with an NGO. IFAW and INTERPOL have collaborated on numerous projects since 2005 including INTERPOL's largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.

As part of a worldwide capacity building initiative IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,600 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare