For use of the media only;
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 (CITES).
“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 example:
- 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.
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