A suspected Chinese ivory smuggler had been apprehended in Kenya after coordinated efforts between the two countries, China's wildlife authorities said on Monday.
The suspect, surnamed Xue, was caught in Nairobi on Jan. 17 by Kenyan authorities, and extradited to China the next day, said the China Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office.
It is the first time China has arrested a wildlife crime suspect overseas.
Xue is said to have led an ivory trafficking group in Kenya for a long time, and hired couriers to smuggle ivory into China.
The rest two suspects of the group, surnamed Zheng and Li, were netted on Jan. 16 and 17 when they were entering China. So far, all the suspects in the group have been caught.
The arrests were part of the operation, dubbed Cobra II, launched by China as well as several countries in Asia, Africa and north America to crack down on wildlife crimes from the end of 2013 to the beginning of 2014.
IVORY "MULE" TELLS TALE
A luggage of a passenger who was trying to enter China attracted attention of the customs staff at the Taoxian airport in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province in northeast China, on Nov. 27, 2013.
X-ray scanner showed the goods in the luggage were almost the same: small ball-shaped things.
The passenger, also surnamed Zheng, opened the luggage at the request of the customs staff. Inside the luggage were several layers of well-sealed opaque bags. On the bags were signs claiming there were nuts inside.
Zheng was very calm and cooperative, saying he was entrusted to get the nuts for kids and he had nothing to declare.
He tore open a bag for the customs staff to taste and tried to give two bags to them.
His composure, however, did not get by.
Customs staff took a bag from the bottom layer, and it was remarkably of different weight with those on the upper layers.
Based on their experiences, they doubted Zheng was smuggling ivory products. Further investigation proved this, 1,226 ivory beads with a diameter of 1.8 to 2 centimeters totaling 8.77 kilograms were found in the luggage.
Further investigation followed and tracked Xue to Kenya. Xue hid in Kenya and remotely controlled mules to smuggle ivory into China. Xue has allegedly built a crime ring on purchase, transport and sales.
Customs police in Shenyang found Xue and Zheng have been buying ivory in Kenya illegally and paying mules for 5,000 to 10,000 yuan (1,639 U.S. dollars) for each smuggling.
Xue's girlfriend, surnamed Li, is said to have helped with customs clearance.
The customs police also found clues that Xue and Zheng were hiding in Kenya, and they will have to find ways to seize them.
Fighting illegal trade of wildlife usually demands cooperation between various countries and departments, but it's very difficult for cross-border arrests as such coordination between countries and departments is far from being fully established, said Meng Xianlin, deputy director of the China Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office.
China's General Customs Administration and the Ministry of Public Security sent a team to Kenya to work with local police to capture Xue. Though suspects have been arrested, the case is still under investigation.
Kenya is a major source of illicit ivory, and China is one of the biggest destinations.
"The unprecedented intercontinental cooperation will deter global ivory trafficking, and demonstrates China's determination to deal with wildlife crime," said Zhou Yafei, a senior figure at the endangered species office.