Operation Cantona: Disrupting Online Illegal Wildlife Trade

The international trade in illegal wildlife and wildlife products online is widespread, conducted openly with little regulation. Online marketplaces and social media sites facilitate this trade by providing platforms for advertising illicit wildlife products, enabling communication and coordination among a global network of criminals. These platforms also facilitate payments and money movement related to the illegal wildlife trade.

Intelligence indicated an increase in the online sale of animals and animal products through various platforms in Nigeria, believed to be subject to Nigerian national legislation and CITES regulations. In response, the Nigeria Special Wildlife Office (NSWO) initiated a covert online intelligence investigation in early 2023, codenamed PROJECT CANTONA. This operation was designed to target and disrupt the activities of individuals unlawfully trading, selling, and dealing in wildlife species subject to national, federal, or international regulations.

Operation Cantona was launched to support the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). The investigation began after discovering a subjects Facebook profile, which displayed numerous images of wildlife products for sale. Covert inquiries revealed that the subject operated from a remote location near Zuru in Kebbi state, North Nigeria, presenting significant challenges for an operational team to conduct an effective strike without alerting locals.

To maintain security and the covert nature of this operation, NCS Special Investigation Unit officers from the neighboring state of Kaduna were assigned to conduct the operation. On Friday, May 24, 2024, NCS officers located and searched property, uncovering 12 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 445.45 kg. One of the subjects was present during the search, arrested, and taken into custody.

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