European governments have joined Kenya to keep pressure on the Obama administration to end its silence on supporting continued protection of elephants during the upcoming CITES convention in March.
Today, officials from Kenya’s police and army, led by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), released photographs and other details of a huge inter-country sting operation against illegal poaching, initiated by INTERPOL in July.
More than two tons of ivory was displayed as Kenyan officials described the operation, code-named ‘Costa’ in recognition of former Tanzanian wildlife director, the late Costa Mlay. The international sweep also resulted in the seizure of “huge caches” of firearms and ammunition, vehicles, cat skins and other contraband wildlife products.
It was the largest international action against wildlife crime ever, according to INTERPOL.
“We in KWS strongly believe that ivory trade fuels illegal killing of elephants,” said Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng’etich who again appealed to the Obama administration to support a Kenyan initiative to keep elephants listed as an endangered species when the CITES convention convenes in March.
There has been growing frustration among conservation organizations at what seems to be the Obama Administration’s reluctance to stand with the Kenyans against Tanzania and other countries lobbying for a downlisting of elephants.
The operation began in July 2009 and was coordinated by INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group based in Lyon, France.
With Kenya as the coordination center, sting operations in five other countries began simultaneously. Most of the individuals targeted by the operation, as well as associates who were trying to flee Africa, were successfully stopped at Nairobi airports.
KWS Deputy Director in-charge of Security, Peter Leitoro, said six foreign nationals were among more than 65 still being held in Kenyan jails.
“The success of Operation Costa is notable not only for the sheer volume of illegal ivory which has been recovered, which is among the biggest-ever hauls recorded, but because it also clearly shows the ability and will of law enforcement to effectively tackle wildlife crime,” said Peter Younger, manager of INTERPOL’s Operational Assistance, Services and Infrastructure Support (OASIS).