Cops seize $1m in rhino horn, ivory

2010-05-19 08:42

Paris - Police seized $1m worth of rhino horns and ivory and shut down an illegal ivory factory in a sweep across southern Africa, international police agency Interpol said on Tuesday.

The operation, which Interpol co-ordinated earlier this month, included the arrests of 41 people.

"Taking these illegal items off the market is just the first step," said Peter Younger, manager of Interpol's Africa wildlife programme.

"Information gathered as part of this operation will also enable law enforcement, both in Africa and abroad, to identify smuggling routes and eventually to further arrests."

Rhino poaching worldwide hit a 15-year high in 2009, according to the WWF conservation group, and the continent has about 18 000 rhinos left, while sub-Saharan Africa has 690 000 elephants at most - where once there were millions.

Ivory demand in Asia and political instability in Africa encourages poaching by international criminal rings, wildlife experts say.

"The impact of wildlife crime is wide-ranging," Younger said.

"People are threatened with violence, law enforcement officers have been killed while carrying out their duties, and there is the wider economic impact on a country and therefore the livelihoods of ordinary people.

Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine where many people believe it can cure arthritis and fever while ivory is used for carving into dagger-handles and other ornaments.

Authorities in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia carried out raids on markets and shops, Interpol said in the statement.