Special Investigations Group

The illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar business, attracting increasingly organized criminal syndicates operating across borders and exploiting gaps in enforcement to facilitate wildlife poaching and trafficking. Increased trans-boundary cooperation and capacity-building for government law enforcement investigators is therefore critical if we are to dismantle these organizations, and this is where the Special Investigations Group (SIG) comes in. SIG has emerged as an important tool to unite and empower law enforcement to help combat wildlife trafficking, and safeguard our natural heritage.

The Special Investigations Group (SIG)

  • Group working on wildlife trafficking under ASEAN-WEN for government investigators to target high-level traffickers of African elephant ivory, rhino horn, big cats and pangolins
  • Forum for criminal investigators and managers to discuss wildlife trafficking intelligence, challenges and best practices, while developing enforcement capacity
  • Mechanism for the confidential exchange of information and coordination of cross-border investigations between national law enforcement agencies
  • Proven solution to enhance cross-border collaboration on transnational wildlife trafficking

SIG Successes

  • High-profile arrests of major wildlife traffickers:
    • Including ivory traffickers from Thailand, Africa and the United States, as well as five high-level tiger traffickers.
  • Operation Cobra:
    • United investigation agencies across 3 continents in a month-long operation.
  • Operation Cobra II
    • Resulted in over 400 arrests and more than 350 major wildlife seizures.
  • The repatriation of more than 1,800kg of elephant ivory from Singapore to Kenya
  • The development of a first ever Marine-SIG investigate criminal syndicates involved in illegal trade and exploitation of marine species

Cobra Operations

Operation Cobra I, II and III – representing 10 countries and four regional wildlife enforcement networks – each ran for 30 days in 2013, 2014 and 2015, driven by a team of wildlife enforcement, police and customs officers from Asia, Africa and the US, who simultaneously held real-time investigations against wildlife criminals across the continents. The unprecedented operations disrupted and slowed illegal trade in endangered species for at least 90 days in a normally high season for wildlife trade, and resulted in hundreds of seizures and arrests.

Four major factors led to success:  Government-led. Demand-driven. Civil Society-supported. Based on lessons learnt from SIG

A key result of the relationships built during the Cobra operations was the decision to publicly expose the Xaysavang syndicate. Consequently, the US government declared an unprecedented $1 million reward for information leading to the dismantling of the syndicate.

Latest SIG News


International Training Targets Criminal Networks involved in Illegal Blood Wood (Rosewood) Trade

Law enforcement officers, forensic experts, prosecutors and anti-money laundering specialists from Southeast Asia, South Asia, China and the Americas are now better equipped to combat rosewood (Dalbergia) trafficking.


Special Investigation Group Training to Protect the Ocean’s Endangered Wildlife

This training is an outcome of the APEC Pathfinder Dialogue that was held in Bangkok last September, where over 150 participants from APEC, ASEAN, and the Pacific Island Forum, policy makers, law enforcement officials, NGOs, and international organizations convened to discuss corruption that facilitates illicit trade in wildlife trafficking, money laundering, and trafficking in persons.

Thousands of Stolen Turtles Returned to Wild

Thousands of Stolen Turtles Returned to Wild

The “Pig-nosed” turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) were confiscated in Hong Kong on January 12th by local authorities after they received a tip-off during a global wildlife enforcement sting operation code-named “Cobra II”.

operation 3 cobra ethiopia

Conservationists Applaud Global Wildlife Protection Operation

The month-long operation and capacity building activity promoted cross-border law enforcement cooperation and is drawing praise from the conservation community for its impressive results, including more than 400 arrests of wildlife criminals and 350 major wildlife seizures across Africa and Asia.

US forensics training july 2013

U.S., Chinese and ASEAN Scientists Join Forces to Track Wildlife Criminals

A team of scientists from China and Southeast Asia completed a training course conducted by U.S. Government forensic experts designed to help them track organized crime syndicates that are leading the trafficking of rare and endangered species across the world.

Female Pangolin giving birth during press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2011.

Asian Gangs Mining Africa’s Wildlife

The seizure of 50 kilograms of pangolin scales this week at Charles De Gaulle Airport was the 3rd this month by French Customs, representing the deaths of up to 400 pangolins, which are endangered ant-eaters, prized for their meat and skin as food and medicine in Asian black markets