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International wildlife operation seizes tons of ivory and rare animal products

By Madison Park, CNN
February 11, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wildlife operation led by China nets tons of illegal animal products
  • Found: 10,000 live eels and asia turtles, over 2,000 live snakes
  • Operation had broad international support

(CNN) -- A wildlife operation involving dozens of countries and organizations, seized more than three tons of ivory and a bevy of rare wildlife products as well as rare wood.

Operatives found rare animals -- both living and dead -- during the international, month-long operation.

The China-led transnational effort, codenamed Cobra II, aimed to crack down on illegal wildlife trade. Authorities recovered over 10,000 live European eels and pig-nosed turtles, as well as over 2,000 live snakes, according to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.

They also seized three tons of ivory, 36 rhino horns, and over 1,000 hides and skins from tigers, leopards and snakes as well as several hundred kilograms of pangolin scales from wildlife traffickers.

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The operation included 27 other countries including the United States. The effort had the support from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the World Customs Organization and Interpol, reported Xinhua.

During the operation, China's law enforcement officials suspected a Chinese man of being the head of an ivory trafficking group after customs staff at Taoxian Airport in northeast China found luggage containing 1,226 ivory beads, according to Xinhua.

Both Chinese and Kenyan police cooperated in the investigation and suspected that the man, whose last name was reported as Xue, operated a crime ring buying, transporting and selling ivory.

Xue was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya on January 17 and extradited to China, the news agency reported. His arrest marks the first time China has arrested a wildlife crime suspect overseas, the report said.

The Cobra II operation lasted from December 30 to January 26. It will "serve as a valuable model for the international community in future operations against transnational crimes," said Wan Ziming, director of the law enforcement department under the endangered species office in Xinhua.

The efforts uncovered over 200 cases with more than 250 suspects, according to Xinhua.

China accounts for around 70% of the global demand for ivory, which is known as "white gold" in the country. China has been under pressure to take more action to protect rare and endangered species and to fight the illegal trade.

China appears to have redoubled efforts tackling the ivory trade -- it destroyed 6.15 tons of ivory in January.

READ: China crushes tons of illegal ivory

READ: Hong Kong to burn stockpile of contraband ivory

READ: Connect the World blog: WWF: China's ivory destruction "fantastic sign"

CNN's Dayu Zhang contributed to this report.

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