New Wildlife Crime Unit cracks down on ivory traffickers in Uganda

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A new law enforcement team is stopping wildlife crime in its tracks and creating a model for success in tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Led by the nonprofit, Focused Conservation, the Special Wildlife Crime Unit (SWCU) is a vetted team comprised of investigators, police officers and lawyers who carry out undercover investigations, make arrests and ensure successful prosecutions of wildlife traffickers. Led by the nonprofit, Focused Conservation, the program is a joint initiative with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Natural Resource Conservation Network with funding provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and USAID.

Each year, an estimated 20,000 African elephants are killed for their tusks. The ivory trade not only threatens the survival of this iconic species, it also undermines national security, destabilizes communities and funds violent extremism across the globe. Uganda is one of the most common wildlife trafficking transit points in Central and East Africa.

Since launching in July 2019, the SWCU has carried out 120 operations across every part of Uganda and most of East Africa. Employing data-driven techniques, these undercover operations have led to 40 arrests and the seizure of 3/4 ton of ivory.

In addition to signaling to wildlife traffickers that the game has changed, the SWCU is also cracking down on corruption, one of the major drivers of the illegal wildlife trade. On February 11th, undercover SWCU officers arrested a serving Ugandan police officer who was attempting to sell ivory as well as pangolin scales, another illegal wildlife product.

In a letter of recognition regarding Focused Conservation’s efforts, David Hubbard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Charge of International Operations, said “Focused Conservation has selected, vetted and trained a cadre of law enforcement officers that are quickly becoming the backbone of Uganda's international wildlife trafficking efforts. The SWCU has become a model of success in building national partners' investigative and prosecution skills, along with building regional and international cooperation among neighboring countries and other non-governmental organizations operating in the international wildlife trafficking field.”

Focused Conservation is a nonprofit organization that is working with governments and law enforcement agencies to bring wildlife traffickers to justice. For more information or to support their work please visit: http://www.focusedconservation.org.

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