Interpol launches new African wildlife crime unit - so who are the bad guys on its list?

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya announced the death of one of its northern white rhinos. Now only six are left in the world.

INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organisation, has announced the formation of a specialist environment crime team for Africa. 

The team, whose aim is to further support its member countries in the fight against illegal ivory trafficking and other environmental issues, will target wildlife criminals such as ivory poachers and rhino horn smugglers. It is based in Nairobi, Kenya. 

It will help co-ordinate activities of law enforcement agencies across Africa and build intelligence networks in order to reign in the activities of major criminal gangs and terrorists who use wildlife as a source of income. INTERPOL could prove to be an effective agency in combatting wildlife crime since it is not limited to individual nations, as plants and animals are trafficked across borders. 

The organisation said, “with the illicit trade in ivory and rhinoceros horn a major concern in East Africa, the team will work with countries and partner organisations to further the activities of INTERPOL’s Project Wisdom, which combats elephant and rhinoceros poaching and the illegal trade in ivory through the financial support of the Wildcat Foundation.

“This initiative will enable INTERPOL, through its “Project Wisdom”, to provide continuous investigative and analytical support to East African member countries concerning significant transnational wildlife trafficking cases, and to assist with planning operations targeting the organised criminal networks behind these crimes,” said David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit.

Conservationists cheer

This news is welcomed by conservationists across the continent and comes at a time when Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya  announced the loss of one of its northern white rhinos. Although the rhino died of natural causes, there are now only six northern white rhinos left in the world. 

This was one of the last two breeding males in the world, and no northern white rhinos are known to have survived in the wild. Consequently the species now stands on the brink of complete extinction and is, as the Ol Pejeta statement says, “a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.”

Project Wisdom already has a promising track record; since 2008 it has coordinated six operations targeting ivory and rhinoceros horn traffickers – Baba, Costa, Mogatle, Ahmed, Worthy and Wendi – which collectively resulted in the arrests of more than 520 persons charged with ivory and rhinoceros horn-related offences. 

The operations also resulted in the identification and shut-down of two ivory factories, the recovery of more than five tons of raw ivory, several tens of thousands of carved ivory items and, the seizure of 20kg of rhinoceros horn (in Operation Worthy) and conviction rates that exceeded 80%. 

The crime team appears to have hit the ground running in Kenya. On October 15 they issued an international warrant of arrest for Mombasa businessman Feisal Ali Mohamed in connection with illegal ivory trade. The red alert notice was issued against the businessman in connection with the seizure of 228 tusks in Kenya in June this year. 

Other wanted suspects already on interpol’s list, related to poaching activities, include:

Sandra Simasiku, Zambia: Charged with the unlawful possession of elephant tusks/government trophy

Ben Simasiku, Zambia: Charged with the unlawful possession of elephant tusks/government trophy

Mary Mwendalubi Katowa, unknown: Charged with the unlawful possession of elephant tusks/government trophy

Yvonne Minganja, Zambia: Charged with the unlawful possession of elephant tusks/government trophy

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