FRONTLINE FLASH | The illegal wildlife trade transnational crime syndicates … but there is hope




Did you know that organized crime syndicates control much of the illegal wildlife trade? Operating

across borders and continents, the tentacles of these networks encircle the globe.

Because the trade in endangered species is so widespread and lucrative, it has attracted the attention
of transnational crime syndicates, many of which are also involved with trafficking arms, drugs and
people. The wholesale slaughter of animals across the globe by these criminals is one of the biggest
threats to our planet’s biodiversity.

Hope for the World’s Wildlife: Operation Cobra Puts the Sting in Law Enforcement
A small working group set up to tackle wildlife trafficking syndicates in Southeast Asia in 2012 has
grown into a global task force responsible for racking up record numbers of arrests and seizures. Developed
by the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) with
help from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-sponsored Asia’s Regional Response
to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program, “Operation Cobra” was launched in Bangkok in
2013. It has now expanded to 37 countries, including major hubs of wildlife trafficking in Asia and Africa.
As a result of Operation Cobra III alone, officers arrested 196 suspects, including eight kingpins, and
made 262 seizures that netted almost 30 tons of wildlife. Results like these have inspired praise from
global bodies like the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and INTERPOL
has now adopted the model by setting up an annual “Project Cobra.”

USAID’s Largest Counter Wildlife Trafficking Program Highlights Achievements this September in

The main accomplishments of the ARREST Program, together with lessons learned and the many tools
and legacies of the program, will be presented at a press conference held in Bangkok on September 15
at 11 a.m. ARREST partners from across Asia, including representatives from government agencies,
NGOs, and members of the local and international media will attend. USAID encourages everyone to join
the event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, located on the top floor of the Maneeya
Center Building, next to the Chitlom BTS station. For more information, please contact Freeland, the lead
implementing partner of ARREST, at