On December 2, authorities in Zambia arrested alleged ivory trafficker Ben Simasiku, a Zambian national and one of nine fugitives targeted by INTERPOL’s Operation Infra Terra, the first fugitive operation to specifically pursue individuals wanted for crimes against wildlife or the environment.
Simasiku was wanted for unlawful possession of elephant tusks and for escaping arrest in Botswana. He was captured by the Zambia Wildlife Authority’s (ZAWA’s) Intelligence and Investigations Unit, which is supported by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).
“The Zambian authorities are to be congratulated for acting quickly and capturing this criminal,” says Nathan Gichohi, African Wildlife Foundation’s senior program officer for species protection. “It’s important we focus on stopping the middlemen, traffickers and kingpins of the ivory and rhino horn trade as much as the poachers. This can effectively be achieved by supporting intelligence agencies at the various wildlife authorities in Africa.”
AWF has been providing equipment and supplies to ZAWA and more recently is supporting elephant protection in and around Zambia’s largest national park, Kafue National Park, through a US$10 million Urgent Response Fund grant to Game Rangers International (GRI), a local NGO. To strengthen wildlife law enforcement in Zambia, GRI and ZAWA have established a Special Anti-Poaching Unit, comprising three rapid-response teams that are also able to deploy as a “Strike Force Support Team” for ZAWA’s Intelligence and Investigations Unit.
Zambia, together with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, is home to Africa’s largest elephant populations. The country also shares borders with Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which were identified by CITES as having serious problems with elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.
“The wildlife and park authority agencies in many African countries are woefully underfunded and undermanned,” says Gichohi. “Here we see a clear case of how effective these agencies can be when they receive the right amount of funding, training and equipment.”
In 2012, AWF-supported game scouts from Zambia’s Sekute Chiefdom blew the whistle on elephant poachers operating in their community conservation area. ZAWA subsequently arrested the poachers and confiscated 41 pieces of ivory—representing 21 adult elephants from Botswana and Zimbabwe.
AWF’s Urgent Response Fund identifies and protects specific populations of elephants, rhinos and other at-risk species through immediate and targeted on-the-ground support of projects. The Fund also strengthens law enforcement and underwrites efforts to stop the trafficking of and demand for products like ivory and rhino horn.