x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai Customs praises Interpol raids on animal smugglers

Interpol has seized almost two tonnes of ivory and 20 kilograms of rhino horn in a three-month campaign across 14 African countries.

DUBAI // An international clampdown on wildlife traffickers has been welcomed by Dubai Customs, which is heavily involved in the battle against the trade.

Interpol has seized almost two tonnes of ivory and 20 kilograms of rhino horn in a three-month campaign across 14 African countries.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), which has an office in Dubai, helped the Operation Worthy team against criminal groups involved in the illegal ivory trade.

Lion, leopard and cheetah pelts, crocodile and python skins, live turtles, tropical birds and other protected species were also seized.

Dubai is regarded as one of a number of transit points for the trade in endangered animals and products made from them. Last month a large haul of ivory was seized in Sri Lanka en route to the emirate.

Dr Elsayed Mohamed, programme manager at Ifaw's Dubai office, said the consignment would probably have been re-exported from the UAE to the Far East. Last August, 664 African elephant tusks were found in Penang, Malaysia, hidden in a container that had come from the UAE.

Ivory is one of the items seized most often by customs inspectors at Dubai International Airport.

More than 320 officers from across Africa, including police, customs, environmental protection staff, vets, airport security and prosecutors, took part in Operation Worthy.

They swooped on markets, ports, shops and border crossings.

Feryal Tawakul, executive director of community affairs and government partnerships at Dubai Customs, said the seizure of such a large quantity of ivory was a major achievement.

"This was possible thanks to international cooperation and intelligence exchange," Mrs Takawul said. "This shows how keen the concerned countries are on combatting the illegal trade in endangered species."

David Higgins, manager of Interpol's environmental crime programme, said the operation was the most wide-ranging of its kind against the ivory trade.

"By identifying their international trafficking routes, arresting those involved at higher levels, and suppressing the crime at its source, in transit and at its destination, we are making a real contribution to the conservation of the world's environment and biodiversity," Mr Higgins said.

The trade in threatened wildlife and plants and products made from them is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which the UAE has signed.

Dubai Customs is running a campaign highlighting the threat posed to endangered animals in the wild by the illegal trade.

A display of seized items including a bear pelt, leopard skins and a stuffed antelope head are on display at Deira City Centre.

Dr Mohamed is training law-enforcement officers in Kazakhstan about ways to prevent wildlife trafficking.

csimpson@thenational.ae