Interpol, the world's largest police organisation, has a new unit – one that's dedicated to combating wildlife crime on the African continent. The new environmental crime team will operate out of Nairobi in Kenya, targeting illicit activities such as poaching and illegal rhino horn and ivory trafficking.

Poaching levels in Africa have soared to staggering heights in recent years, with 100,000 African elephants lost in the past three years alone, and rhino populations in South Africa close to tipping point. The new unit will be tasked with providing support to law enforcement agencies in African countries in order to clamp down on the global criminal groups involved not only in wildlife crime, but also other serious forms of crimes.

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Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials display recovered elephant tusks and firearms taken from poachers in Kenya's capital Nairobi last year. Image: REUTERS/Noor Khamis

“This initiative will enable Interpol, through its Project Wisdom, to provide continuous investigative and analytical support to East African member countries concerning significant transnational wildlife trafficking cases, and to assist with planning operations targeting the organised criminal networks behind these crimes,” said David Higgins, the head of Interpol's Environmental Security Unit.

Interpol's Project Wisdom was launched back in 2008 to improve wildlife law enforcement across Africa. It's since carried out several major seizure operations. 

The announcement of the new environmental crime team was made during an event hosted by the Australian High Commission in Kenya. 

"The global fight against illegal trafficking has just been given a significant boost. The new Interpol team in Nairobi will mean better intelligence gathering and sharing among the law enforcement community, which is key to shutting down the poachers and smugglers,” said Australian High Commissioner Geoff Tooth.

All this comes just days after thousands of marchers took to the streets worldwide as part of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos to call on governments to do more to stop rampant poaching (click here for march snapshots from South Africa).   

Top header image: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Flickr.