By Colin Simpson
The biggest ever international crackdown on ivory smuggling will help to prevent trafficking through the UAE, according to the regional head of an animal welfare organisation.
Details of Operation Worthy, which lasted three months and covered 14 African countries, were announced last week. Interpol seized almost two tonnes of ivory, 20kg of rhino horn, lion, leopard and cheetah pelts, live turtles, tropical birds and other protected species.
Interpol worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) and more than 320 local officers during the campaign. Dr Elsayed Mohamed, Ifaw's Middle East regional director, said: "This operation will have a good impact by enhancing the prevention of wildlife trafficking through all transit countries, including the UAE.
"I think this is excellent work due to the cooperation between government enforcement authorities in many countries."
Dr Mohamed, who is based in Dubai, was speaking from Kazakhstan, where he is taking part in an Ifaw project to provide training on the prevention of wildlife trafficking in central Asian countries.
Dubai is seen as a transit point for the trade in endangered animals and their body parts. Last month a huge haul of ivory was seized in Sri Lanka en route to Dubai, and last August an even larger consignment was found in Malaysia in a container that had come from the UAE. Ivory is among the items seized most often by customs officers at Dubai airport.
David Higgins, manager of Interpol's environmental crime programme, said: "The intelligence gathered during Operation Worthy will enable us to identify the links between the poachers and the global networks driving and facilitating the crime."
Lisa Perry, programmes director at the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature, said: "The operation will certainly have made an impact on the illegal ivory trade, not only through directly arresting some of those involved in it but also through the deterrence effect from the publicity surrounding the number of arrests, and one would anticipate successful prosecutions in due course."
Details of more than 200 arrested during the operation have not yet been revealed. Ms Perry said the greatest impact would be achieved only if those held included the key players who ran the smuggling operations.
"The impact will be far less significant if only the small-scale dealers and traders have been detained," she added.
"What sets this latest operation apart is that the seizures took place in Africa, whereas currently the majority of ivory seizures usually take place in transit or destination countries."