Nairobi, Nov 30 (IANS) International police organisation Interpol said Friday it seized more than 240 kg of ivory and 856 timber logs and arrested 660 suspects during a month-long coordinated operation across southern and eastern Africa.
Interpol said they also seized 20 kg of rhino horns, 302 bags of charcoal, 637 firearms, nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition, 30 chainsaws, 200 kg of cannabis and khat, 65 pellets of heroin, 47 animal parts and 44 vehicles, Xinhua reported citing a statement.
Heri Lugaye, assistant superintendent of police at the Interpol National Central Bureau in Tanzania, said they identified major networks involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory during the operation from Sep 26 to Oct 26.
"We have also seized significant amounts of ivory, as well as illegal shipments of timber and charcoal," Lugaye said in the statement.
"We are still following intelligence generated from this operation and expect to make further seizures based on these collaborative efforts," he added.
Concern is growing among conservationists that the endangered African elephant is currently grappling with what could be the worst crisis to ever hit them since 1989 when international commercial trade in ivory was prohibited.
Wildlife conservationists say rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 20 months.
Kenya has invested in state-of-the-art technology to strengthen the fight against wildlife poaching. The introduction of scanners and sniffer dogs at border points, airports and seaports is expected to minimize smuggling of ivory and rhinoceros horns.
Interpol seized 1,700 pieces of ivory weighing nearly five tonnes early this month in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
The team was also deployed in the east African region to assess environmental crimes in the region, focusing on elephant poaching and illicit trafficking in ivory.
The operation which was conducted as part of Interpol's Project Wisdom and Project Leaf, jointly targeted ivory smuggling and illegal logging, with smugglers often concealing ivory inside charcoal containers or welded chambers of trucks used to transport logs across borders.
The month-long operation involved enforcement officers, forest authorities, park rangers, police and customers officers from Tanzania, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique
"These operations bring in a great deal of information and intelligence on not only where and how these crimes are being committed, but also about the individuals and networks behind them," said David Higgins, head of Interpol's environmental security unit.
"Through analysis and comparison with information stored in Interpol's global databases, this enables law enforcement to obtain a clearer picture of how to more effectively target resources and disrupt the transnational crime networks involved," added Higgins.