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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Law & Order … Wildlife Crime

Published 12/05/08
By Adam M. Roberts, Senior Vice President

International wildlife trade is big business for the poachers and profiteers who exploit wild animals — to the death — and then sell their parts or products made from them to thoughtless buyers across the globe.

It’s a trade that’s worth billions of dollars. It has long been rumored that the Russian mafia is involved in the caviar trade. We know that arms are traded for ivory in Africa. We know that Chinese “businessmen” profit by “farming” tigers to slaughter them for their bones, organs, and skins. Big business indeed.

Stopping the illegal wildlife trade is very difficult. Wildlife trade is a low priority for many governments, and even when the will to crack down exists, wildlife law enforcement agencies are severely underfunded and understaffed.

I often think about the dedicated game wardens in Africa who literally lose their lives in shootouts with poachers. And then I think of their families and what they have to endure after losing their breadwinner.

So with all this in mind, sincere congratulations to the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group for a coordinated continent-wide bust of domestic elephant ivory markets across Africa on November 15.

The teams seized thousands of carved ivory items including ivory nameseals (called “hankos” in Japan) and ivory chopsticks as well as raw and powdered ivory (this is the first I’ve heard of powdered ivory being marketed commercially).

I’m told that more than 300 officers in five different countries participated in the sting. More than 50 wildlife dealers were arrested as a result.

And it’s not just elephant ivory being commercialized and uncovered in this operation: cheetah, leopard, hippo, and python parts were also found.

Born Free is also very pleased to have started working more closely with INTERPOL. Earlier this year, we participated in a meeting at their headquarters in Lyon, France, where we presented information about the recent upsurge in elephant poaching across Africa. Teamwork has to be the key to tackling wildlife crime. The challenges are simply too great to face alone.

According to INTERPOL, “The operation was code-named Project Baba in honor of Gilbert Baba, a Ghanaian ranger who was killed a decade ago by poachers in the line of duty.”

I hope Mr. Baba’s family is proud of the work done in honor of their fallen family hero. I know I am.

And I’m equally proud of all the dedicated officers from INTERPOL and throughout Africa who fight the wildlife trade every day. How many thousands, nay millions, of wild animals are safe in their forest homes — and how many wildlife pilferers are behind bars — at this very minute because of their dedication?

Blogging off,


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