A Chinese national suspected of leading an ivory-smuggling ring was arrested in Kenya last month and extradited to China as part of an international sweep against the illegal trade.
The suspect, surnamed Xue, is the first Chinese national suspected of involvement in the illegal wildlife trade to be arrested overseas, the Xinhua news agency said.
The suspect was caught in Nairobi in January by Kenyan police and immigration officials working with Chinese customs and local wildlife conservationists, the South China Morning Post said.
He was extradited to China the day after his arrest.
China reportedly arrested two other suspects when they returned to the mainland last month.
The cases are still under investigation, the South China Morning Post said.
“The arrests were the first major success of Operation Cobra II, a campaign between 28 countries, including China, the United States and South Africa, to crack down on the illegal trade in protected species of wildlife,” the report said.
Operation Cobra II has reportedly uncovered “a few hundred cases” leading to the arrest of a similar number of suspects, according to Shi Jianbin, the China head of Traffic, a global network that monitors the illegal ivory trade. He said about 60 percent of the cases involve China.
“China is the largest market for illegal ivory and Kenya one of the main sources, even though elephant hunting is banned in the east African country,” the SCMP said.
Beijing destroyed more than six tons of ivory last month.
Some of the smuggling has been traced to bribery of customs and immigration officials in Kenya and other African countries.
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In December, about 20 countries attended the African Elephant Summit hosted by Botswana and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The countries agreed to mount a coordinated international attack on elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
Elephant range states that participated included Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Niger, and Zambia. Ivory transit states attending were the Philippines and Malaysia. And ivory destination states, China and Thailand, agreed to act.
This week, delegates from about 50 countries are meeting in London for the world’s biggest ever conference on the illegal wildlife trade.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is hosting the event and the Prince of Wales is attending.
As many as 50,000 elephants are being poached each year.
Up to sixty-five percent of wild elephants in central Africa were killed between 2002 and 2013, the Independent said.
Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.