Interpol issued on Monday a first-of-its-kind list of the world's most wanted environmental fugitives who have been convicted of a variety of offenses including illegal fishing, wildlife trafficking, illegal toxic waste dumping, logging without permits, and trade in illicit ivory.
The operation, called International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest (Infra) Terra was launched in October by the global police agency and focuses on 139 fugitives who are wanted in 36 countries. With Monday's announcement, Interpol is seeking assistance from the public in tracking down nine of the most wanted fugitives. Among them is Italian Adriano Giacobone, wanted for illegal transport and dumping of toxic waste, Ben Simasiku from Zambia, arrested for trade in elephant tusks, and Sudiman Sunoto, charged with illegal logging in Indonesia.
"Even the smallest detail, which you might think is insignificant, has the potential to break a case wide open when combined with other evidence the police already have," said Ioannis Kokkinis, Criminal Intelligence Officer with Interpol's Fugitive Investigative Support unit, which is coordinating Infra Terra.
"Sometimes all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes to bring new momentum to an investigation and provide the missing clue which will help locate these wanted individuals, some of whom have been evading justice for years," he added.
Poaching, illegal logging, and other forms of habitat destruction are having a significant impact on species populations around the world. In September the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a study that found half the world's animals had been killed in the past 40 years.
Illegal logging in Indonesia threatens iconic species like the Sumatra's tigers, rhinos, and orangutan. In January, the WWF reported that over 1000 rhinos were killed in South Africa by poachers in 2013 — roughly three per day. The conservation group says fewer than 2,500 adult tigers remain in the wild. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 40,000 African elephants were killed in 2011 alone.
"It's great to see Interpol going high profile on targeting key figures from the shady underworld of wildlife trafficking," Crawford Allan, Senior Director of WWF's TRAFFIC project, told VICE News. "The challenge is so great that Interpol is now sharing with the public some of their top targets — that is how serious this is. We are working to support these efforts wherever we can and hope that wildlife criminals are brought to justice."
Interpol's Infra Terra campaign is modeled on previous efforts to track fugitives wanted for child sex crimes, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
"We believe that the capture of these criminals on the run will contribute to the dismantlement of transnational organized crime groups who have turned environmental exploitation into a professional business with lucrative revenues," said Stefano Carvelli, Head of Interpol's Fugitive Investigative Support unit.
Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman