Saturday, 18 December 2010

Clampdown on wildlife smuggling in Central Africa

Elephant tusks, lion skins and turtle shells all seized

December 2010: An operation by special police forces earlier this month in Central African Republic led to the arrest of a prominent wildlife smuggler and seizure of elephant tusks and cat skins.

This comes amid a series of similar successful operations in Cameroon, Gabon and Republic of Congo. Such concerted efforts have been given a warm welcome by the WWF, as they give a clear warning to wildlife traffickers in the region.

The RALF (French acronym for Strengthening of the Wildlife Law Enforcement) project aims to increase wildlife law enforcement activities and judiciary follow-up of wildlife crimes in the CAR, targeting mainly high-level wildlife traffickers. It works closely with the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior.

‘This shows how successful wildlife law enforcement activities can be when they are supported at the highest level,' said Jean-Bernard Yarissem, WWF country director in CAR. ‘Collaboration between CAR's authorities and WWF's RALF project are paying off.'

Smugglers work as part of an international network
Two elephant tusks, five panther and two lion skins were seized in the operation, which was staged over two days. They were hidden under a pile of cow skins in a truck.

The smuggler - a CAR citizen working within an international network - was en route to Nigeria when he was arrested at a checkpoint some 25 kilometers outside Bangui. He will be prosecuted soon. Judicial authorities in CAR's capital have given their full support to the operation.

The Cameroonian police have arrested three traffickers with 17 turtle shells in two different operations. In Gabon, 16 ivory smugglers were caught with more than 100kg of ivory. All are in jail, awaiting trial.

Another dealer was arrested with 30 kilos of ivory in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘We are really moving a step forward as regional wildlife law enforcement is becoming a reality in Central Africa,' said Alain Ononino, the head of the legal department at the Last Great Ape (LAGA), an organisation that fights for wildlife law enforcement in Cameroon and the rest of Central Africa with WWF support.

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