Over 22 tonnes and 13,000 pieces of protected wildlife covering 31+ species were seized during a a trans-regional operation to combat cross-border trade in great apes and other wildlife. This recent enforcement initiative was coordinated by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and conducted under the Swedish-backed Project GAPIN (Great Apes and Integrity), which aims to crack down on illegal wildlife trade and stem corrupt practices that help to fuel illicit trafficking.

The list of illegal items seized is extensive and includes:

4 rhino horns

one live monkey (“Macaca sylvanus” species),

two dead monkeys (bushmeat of the Macaques species),

295 pieces of worked ivory (statues, jewellery, chopsticks, etc.),

57 kg of raw ivory,

4,726 kg of pangolin meat,

323 seahorses, and

one leopard skin.

Also seized, but still being analyzed to determine their species and protection status are:

5,300 kg of shark fins,

12,056 pieces of sea shells,

11,250 kg of sea cucumbers,

1,000 kg of eel intestines, and

50 kg of bushmeat.

Fourteen countries participated in this operation, and seizures and/or detentions were made in Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Africa.

Operation GAPIN was preceded by a one-week intensive, specialized capacity building training session in Mombasa, Kenya for frontline Customs officials in December 2010, which focused on building the capability of officers to more effectively tackle wildlife smuggling and to more readily identify any integrity and corruption issues.  Some of the countries participating in the training session made a number of significant interceptions during the actual operation and moreover, Vietnam Customs seized 1.2 tonnes of ivory shipped from Tanzania via Singapore just prior to the start of the operation.

Customs officers are on the front line of fighting wildlife trafficking, and this operation shows the effectiveness of intensive training.