A prominent environmental criminal named on the INTERPOL Wanted List of International Fugitives, INFRA Terra, has been arrested by a team from the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and Zambia Police.
Ben Simasiku, a 32-year-old Zambian national, escaped from Botswana where he had been arrested in 2012 for the unlawful possession of seventeen pieces of elephant ivory. The illegal cache weighed 115kg.
Intelligence leading to Simasiku’s arrest last week in Livingstone was received by ZAWA and a special operation to intercept this international fugitive was launched, culminating in the arrest of Simasiku on Tuesday 2nd December 2014.
The successful operation was applauded by Kelvin Alie, Director of Wildlife Trade for IFAW.
“Arrests are always good news in the fight against poaching and illegal trafficking because they indicate improved levels of law enforcement. IFAW congratulates ZAWA on this important arrest,” said Alie. “In an era where there has been very few arrests, prosecutions and convictions of high-profile traffickers involved in ivory smuggling, we hope that relevant authorities in Zambia and Botswana will collaborate with bodies like INTERPOL, and others to ensure the dismantling of networks associated with Simasiku’s arrest and we look forward to a successful conviction and prosecution of this notorious ivory trafficker”.
Jason Bell, IFAW Director Southern Africa, said law enforcers confiscated consignments of ivory almost on a weekly basis.
“Up to 35,000 elephants a year are losing their lives to poaching for their ivory, so all successes which interrupt illegal wildlife trade make an important difference to saving wildlife,” said Bell.
Last week’s operation was led by the ZAWA Intelligence and Investigations Unit with support from Game Rangers International. GRI is committed to supporting the use of intelligence-led law enforcement to tackle wildlife crime in Zambia.
GRI’s work with the ZAWA Intelligence and Investigations Unit is supported by IFAW and the African Wildlife Foundation.
In May 2014 IFAW supported a GRI training of rangers from the ZAWA. The training boosted skills to aid in the fight against poaching.
Operation Infra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest) Terra was launched by INTERPOL on 6th October, focusing on 139 fugitives wanted by 36 member countries for crimes including illegal fishing, wildlife trafficking, illegal trade and disposal of waste, illegal logging and trading in illicit ivory. It is the first INTERPOL fugitive operation targeting individuals specifically wanted for crimes concerning the environment.
As one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at US$19-billion annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks fourth on the list of the most lucrative global illegal activities closely behind drugs, all forms of counterfeiting and human trafficking.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as "white gold." Availability of legal ivory in China purchased from the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephant to meet market needs.
As part of a worldwide capacity building initiative IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. The organization has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with INTERPOL, the first ever signed by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme with an NGO. IFAW and INTERPOL have collaborated on numerous projects since 2005 including Interpol’s largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.