A cross-border African task-force has arrested several key members of an ivory smuggling pipeline that covertly moved tons of elephant tusks from Africa to Asia.
Details of the intensive six-week clandestine operation were released in Nairobi on Friday, the culmination of a crackdown by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and its multi-agency partners.
"These arrests reveal how the smuggling has been orchestrated," said Kraisak Choonhavan, Chairperson of Freeland, the counter-trafficking organisation that provided training for the LATF-co-ordinated operations.
"We hope the investigation will now continue in Asia to find the big buyers who are sponsoring the killing of elephants. Africa is now ahead of Asia in going beyond seizures and making meaningful arrests of wildlife criminals," he added.
"But it is heartening that African law enforcement benefited greatly from Southeast Asian law enforcement co-operation in this big case."
18 months of investigation
Seven key players of a syndicate that smuggled 1 ton of elephant tusks from Uganda to Singapore via Kenya in one instance alone, were among those arrested.
They were targeted as smuggling links in a chain responsible for the ongoing decimation of Africa's elephants for the ivory trade, as well as other endangered species whose body parts are still being smuggled in large quantities to Asia's black markets.
A senior Kenyan Customs official, several shipping agents, and high-level traffickers were nabbed for their role in smuggling the illegal consignment to Singapore in March 2014. The accused are also under investigation for other wildlife crimes.
The operation was the culmination of 18 months of investigation in 8 countries by numerous agencies.
Using a digital forensics unit called Cellebrite and a computer analysis programme called i-2, investigators were able to connect the dots between the seizures and the suppliers.
In 2015 alone, 32 tons of ivory were seized in Southeast Asia coming from East and West African ports.