THE HAGUE - Global police have seized "huge amounts" of wildlife contraband, including some 12 tonnes of ivory, as well as rhino horns and whale bones, in a massive operation across 62 countries, Europol said yesterday.
"Operation Cobra III, the biggest-ever coordinated international law enforcement operation targeting the illegal trade in endangered species, has led to the recovery of a huge amount of wildlife contraband," Europe's police agency said in a statement.
In a separate statement issued in Bangkok, one of the operations' organisers, Asean's Wildlife Enforcement Network (Asean-WEN) said Cobra III resulted in at least 300 arrests.
This included "kingpins and over 600 seizures of assorted wildlife contraband", it said.
Eight suspected kingpins arrested included a Chinese national involved in Namibia's biggest rhino horn smuggling case and a notorious elephant poacher in India, it added.
The two-month-long operation involving 62 European, African, American and Asian states saw police seize 119 rhino horns, with 11,439 dead and live specimens of wildlife recovered in Europe alone, Europol said from its Hague-based headquarters.
The haul included 16 whale ribs in the Netherlands, 20kg of live leeches in Bulgaria, 10,000 dead seahorses and 400 live tortoises and turtles in Britain, and 300 live tortoises and turtles in Croatia.
In Thailand, police seized more than 4 tonnes of ivory hidden in containers originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The shipping of ivory has been banned since 1989, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
In India, nearly 11,000kg of suspected tiger bones were found.
Chinese and German police meanwhile confiscated around 800 cacti plants.
In France, 50kg of unworked ivory were found.
"Investigations continue in many countries," Europol said.
Europol said Cobra III was organised by Asean-WEN and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, which consists of seven African countries.
Said Europol's director Rob Wainwright: "The trafficking of endangered species remains a problem in the EU and beyond.
"Operation Cobra III once again shows the true global dimension of these crimes.
"We will continue our efforts to fight these cruel crimes, to ensure a safe environment for endangered species in Europe and all over the world."