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not an official document.
CITES seeks stronger action
against organized wildlife criminals
Santiago de Chile, 6 November 2002 – With Beluga caviar
costing 940 EUR for 125 grams in European airport duty-free shops,
organized crime groups seeking easy profits are becoming an increasingly
powerful force in the illegal wildlife trade.
Profits from the illegal harvesting, smuggling and sale of tiger
skins, bear gall bladders, ivory, rare orchids and other wildlife
products are now only exceeded by those of trafficking in narcotics
and weapons. This illegal trade risks pushing species that are
already highly endangered over the edge.
“In addition to threatening the survival of many plant and
animal species, criminal gangs are also exploiting local hunters
and fishermen in some of the world’s poorest regions,”
said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
“While these hard-pressed workers scour the wilderness
to earn small amounts of money to feed their families, the crime
syndicates that control the poaching and smuggling reap enormous
profits. Policy makers and the heads of Customs and police agencies
need to confront the fact that the profits from organized wildlife
crime can even exceed those of narcotics or arms”, he said.
This week, government officials and experts attending the CITES
conference in Santiago, Chile, will explore how to strengthen
global cooperation on gathering intelligence about these criminal
organizations and then targeting them for successful prosecution.
The conference delegates will also examine some of the many successes
that customs, police and specialized enforcement agencies have
had since CITES last met in Nairobi, Kenya, in April 2000. For
- Enforcement officials have taken action against illegal traders
who, during the first 10 months of 2001, re-exported caviar
from the United Arab Emirates having a wholesale value of over
USD 20 million. These organized criminals used fraudulent documents
and threats of violence to ‘launder’ poached caviar
and sell it to major companies in Europe and North America.
Some of the illegal caviar ended up in the first-class cabins
of several of Asia’s leading airlines.
- In June 2002, the combined efforts of Zambian investigators,
the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, the CITES Secretariat, Interpol,
and Agriculture and Veterinary officers in Singapore led to
the seizure of over six tons of raw and semi-processed ivory.
The operation revealed a highly-organized smuggling ring extending
from the savannahs and forests of Africa to the bustling cities
of Hong Kong and Tokyo.
- In early 2002, close cooperation between CITES and non-governmental
organizations led to the uncovering of an illegal shipment from
Nigeria to Malaysia of four young gorillas, falsely declared
to have been bred in captivity. Investigations have shown that
this was not an exchange between zoos, as claimed, but yet another
case of criminals seeking to profit from the exploitation of
rare and highly endangered animals.
The debate on enforcement will address corruption, inter-agency
cooperation at the national and international levels, the deployment
of specialized enforcement units, penalties for offenders, forensic
science, the fraudulent use of CITES permits and certificates,
and techniques that can be used to combat smugglers.
“All too often, CITES enforcement personnel are exposed
to a considerable risk of personal injury and to threats and harassment
when they carry out their duties,” said Mr. Wijnstekers.
“This conference in Santiago offers an important opportunity
for us to salute the courageous people on the frontlines of wildlife
protection and to recognize the vital role they play in preserving
the world’s biodiversity.”
Note to journalists:
Alejandro Bravo, Interpol – Chile, Charles Mackay, H.M. Customs
United Kingdom, Gert van der Merwe, Endangered Species Protection
Unit, South African Police Service, John Sellar, Senior Enforcement
Officer, CITES Secretariat, will brief the press on organized wildlife
crime on Wednesday 6, November, Room 5, Diego Portales.
The relevant document (COP12
Doc.27) will be examined in the Plenary session under Agenda
item 27 (Enforcement matters) and is available at the document distribution
counter or at www.cites.org.
To read previous press releases, go to Archives.