, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov – Over 1,000 kilograms of ivory has been seized and dozens of suspected poachers arrested in Kenya since July during a simultaneous operation which was being carried across Eastern Africa, officials said on Monday.
The operation code-named ‘Costa’ was launched in July and involved the police, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel, customs officials and intelligence officers in Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
It was Africa’s largest international action against wildlife crime.
KWS Deputy Director in-charge of Security Peter Leitoro said the international operation targeted ivory markets, airports, border crossings and smuggling points where most of the precious items were recovered and suspects arrested.
“We were able to arrest dozens of suspected illegal wildlife dealers who were found with carved and raw items of ivory during the intensified swoop which was conducted in five other countries,” Mr Leitoro said.
He said six foreign nationals were among those arrested outside national parks and game reserves while others were local brokers and poachers.
Speaking at a press conference where he displayed to journalists some of the recovered items, Mr Leitoro said the bulk of the recovered items were being kept at their stores and would not be destroyed any time soon.
The rest of the countries were expected to make public their seizures in due course.
He said the operation also resulted in the seizure of firearms and ammunition, vehicles, cat skins and other contraband wildlife products.
The operation was launched in July 2009, and took up the name ‘Costa’ in honour of the late Costa Mlay, a former Tanzanian wildlife director who set high standards of professionalism and integrity in wildlife conservation.
Mr Leitoro said KWS was faced with a major challenge of fighting poachers who “are now using sophisticated means and weapons in their illegal trade.”
The director of national Police Operations Julius Ndegwa who is a board member of the KWS said a security operation “would be intensified in national parks and game reserve neighbourhoods as part of the intensified war against the illegal poaching trade.”
The Lusaka Agreement Taskforce and other local and international security agencies involved in the operation have blamed the rise of illegal poaching cases to the partial lifting of the ban on ivory trade in 2007 by some African countries including Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Interpol’s regional bureau chief Awad Dahia lauded Kenyan security agencies for their cooperation in the success of the operation and reiterated their commitment in subsequent operations.
“The illegal ivory trade is not just about smugglers and poachers, there are far reaching consequences to this and all wildlife crime,” he said and cited the killings of law enforcement officers.