China Leads Transnational Wildlife Crime Bust

A China-led campaign against international wildlife crimes has inflicted a stunning blow on poaching and smuggling, in yet another showcase of China's firm stance on illegal trafficking of rare animals and products.

The operation, code-named Cobra II, cracked over 350 cases involving more than 400 suspects, and captured more than three tonnes of ivory and ivory products, over 1,000 hides and a number of other wildlife products, the China Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office said on Monday.

The global crackdown was co-organized by China, the United States, South Africa, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, and the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network.

A total of 28 countries participated between Dec. 30, 2013 and Jan. 26, 2014.

The campaign was also supported by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the World Customs Organization, and Interpol.


During the month-long operation, China collaborated with Kenya in arresting a Chinese man suspected of being an ivory smuggler and head of an ivory trafficking group.

The case was brought to light after customs staff in Taoxian Airport in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province in northeast China, seized luggage containing 1,226 ivory beads weighing 8.77 kg.

Further investigation tracked a main suspect surnamed Xue, who hid in Kenya and controlled couriers to smuggle ivory into China. He allegedly built a crime ring engaged in purchase, transport and sales of ivory products.

Fighting illegal trade of wildlife usually demands cooperation between various countries and departments, but it's very difficult for cross-border arrests as coordination is not yet fully established.

Thanks to Cobra II, however, the Chinese government sent a team to Kenya to work with local police to capture Xue.

He was caught in Nairobi on Jan. 17 by Kenyan authorities, and extradited to China the next day, marking the first time China has arrested a wildlife crime suspect overseas.

Another two suspects of the group, surnamed Zheng and Li, were netted on Jan. 16 and 17 when they were entering China.


"The unprecedented intercontinental cooperation will deter global ivory trafficking, and demonstrates China's determination to deal with wildlife crime," said Zhou Yafei, a senior official at the endangered species office.

Chinese authorities, including forestry, customs, police, judiciary and quarantine departments, allocated more than 100,000 staff to the operation, and uncovered over 200 cases involving more than 250 suspects.

The country sent enforcement staff to Kenya for the first time to arrest ivory trafficking suspects and host lectures on wildlife protection.

China was not only fully committed to the operation's planning and implementation, but also played a leading role in Cobra II, according to Wan Ziming, director of the law enforcement department under the endangered species office.

"Cobra II will serve as a valuable model for the international community in future operations against transnational crimes," Wan said.

The operation showed what can be achieved when law enforcement authorities work together in a coordinated manner, said John Scanlon, CITES secretary-general.

"It also serves to highlight that intelligence-led operations are essential in the fight against transnational organized wildlife crime," Scanlon added.


This is not the first time that China has taken the initiative in combatting wildlife crimes.

The country called for an international crackdown on the issue in 2012, and initiated the first Operation Cobra, involving 22 countries, in early 2013.

China has rich wildlife resources, holding around 6,500 vertebrate species, about 10 percent of the world's total.

Over 470 terrestrial vertebrates are indigenous to China, including the giant panda, golden monkey, South China tiger and Chinese alligator.

However, in some parts of the country the tradition of eating exotic animals as a delicacy persists. Some rare species are also used in traditional medicine.

To protect biological diversity, China has a long list of rare and endangered species that receive judicial protection, a complete legal framework in place and many laws and regulations at central and local levels.

Last month, the Chinese government destroyed 6.1 tonnes of confiscated ivory to show its determination to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness.

Raw tusks and carved ivory pieces, which the government had seized over the years, were dumped into two crushers and ground to rubble and ash at a ceremony in Dongguan City of south China's Guangdong Province.

Zhang Jianlong, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, said that China will continue to cooperate with other countries to strengthen wildlife protection and fully fulfil its international obligations.


Source: Xinhua