An operation against illegal domestic ivory markets and trafficking was carried out in five African countries on 15th November 2008. It was among others, a response to specific requests by African participants during a meeting of the Interpol Working Group on Wildlife Crime in Ngurdoto, Tanzania in October 2007. The operation was code-named ‘Operation Baba’ in honour of the late Gilbert Baba, a Ghanaian Wildlife Ranger who was killed by illegal wildlife traders at the Mole National Park in Ghana a decade ago.
After several months of planning and intelligence gathering, wildlife authorities supported by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, ICPO-Interpol, Customs and Police in the five African States simultaneously carried out the operation. The countries that participated in the operation are Congo Brazzaville, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The operations were carried out in the coastal city of Pointe Noire by officers from Police, Wildlife Department and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force.
Seven hundred and seventy four (774) pieces of worked elephant ivory weighing 18.75kg were seized and 3 suspects arrested. They were arraigned in law courts in Pointe Noire.
The operations were conducted by the Ghana Wildlife Division and Ghana Police where eleven people suspected to be members of an African network of illegal dealers in ivory and crocodile skin products were arrested. The arrest which took place at the Accra Arts Centre also seized approximately 500 kilogrammes of ivory and ivory products, as well as crocodile skin bags worth US$350,000.
The suspects claimed that the products had been brought to them already carved for sale by their agents in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroun, Togo and Gabon.
The operations were jointly carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Police and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force in Nairobi, Amboseli, Tsavo East, Mombasa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Narok, Maralal, Nakuru and Aberdares. The law enforcement officers recovered 113 pieces of ivory weighing 358 kg, 27 assorted wildlife skins and 36 suspects were apprehended.
In Uganda, the operation Baba team comprised 48 operatives from Wildlife, Police, Intelligence and Customs authorities.
The operation resulted in seizure of 28kg of elephant ivory where 2 suspects were arrested in the west and 13 worked elephant ivory pieces recovered from an Italian national in Kampala. The Italian has since been convicted and sentenced to a fine of Uganda shillings 1million (about US$550) or in default imprisonment for 6 months.
In the western region, two elephant tusks weighing 16kg were also seized and three accomplices arrested. The operations yielded further positive results in the North Western Uganda where 23 pieces of elephant molars weighing 12 kilogrammes, a finger ring and a pair of earrings were seized.
In Zambia, operation Baba was carried out by twenty eight (28) Operatives drawn from the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), Zambia Police and Zambia Revenue Authority. The operation focused on entry/exit points where intelligence information on traffickers was collected for use during the on-going investigations.
At Victoria Falls, the operation team apprehended a suspect with a carved ivory bangle who led the team to Sesheke where the bangles were allegedly being processed.
At Katima Mulilo they interviewed a suspect with an ivory bangle which he claimed had been acquired from Sesheke. Further Intelligence information led the operation team to a timber dealer who was also suspected to have illegal dealings in wildlife products.
At Kalomo, following up information on rhino horns smuggled from Zimbabwe resulted in arrest of 3 suspects. However the horns turned out to be fake.
At Chirundu border point, the operatives unearthed a syndicate that was supplying ivory to a makeshift processing facility in Lusaka. This led operatives to Mkushi where the team recovered one pair of elephant tusks weighing 10kg, and 2.5 litres of Crocodile fat. Suspects were arraigned in the local law Courts.
The Task Force recognizes and commends the invaluable roles played by various agencies, including the media, in the operation and looks forward to enhanced co-operation in the future.
LATF- Outstanding in Reducing and Ultimately eliminating Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora