Saturday, February 7, 2015

Front-line Workers Oblivious to Ploys Used by Wildlife Smugglers

Confiscated ivory tusks inside luggage

During a recent summit held in Bangkok, it has been pointed out that front-line transport workers are mostly unaware on how criminal organizations mask illegal wildlife products in order to safely transport them into given destinations for public consumption. Illegal wildlife trade experts and customs officials stated that teaching handlers of air, freight, land, and ship cargoes can help in the battle against wildlife smuggling. According to Martin Palmer, an expert on international trade compliance requirements and international transport, traffickers of wildlife have come up with ingenious methods to transport their illicit products virtually undetected. For example, a box of ground up rhino horn can be almost impossible to distinguish from a box containing grey chalk from a visual inspection. At the summit, elephant and rhino trafficking expert Tom Milliken presented a case study in which a leading international carrier company in 2011 unexpectedly discovered in its German storehouse that the packages it was transporting contained ivory bangles destined to China from Nigeria. He further added that there is proof that ivory processing is taking place by Chinese sculptors in Africa. Wildlife trade experts indicated that this shift is a new threat to transport workers and such information needs to be conformed for the transport industry so that they can better evaluate the risks. They further added that they are requesting the transport industry's help specifically because most of the customs and security agents at ports and airports across the world are "overwhelmed" by issues related to drugs, human trafficking, and security. An official for the World Customs Organizations (WCO) that very few customs agents across the world have specific teams that know which wildlife species are banned from the international trade. The United Nations' International Maritime Organization estimates that roughly 90 percent of items traded across the globe are shipped internationally. In most incidents, sea containers are not scanned compared to air cargoes. For that reason, experts indicate that customs agents work on the principle of a very reasoned danger assessment to pick containers that have a higher chance of containing illegal wildlife products. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated that several airlines had initiated training programs for staff to recognize potential suspects' luggage and behaviors. Its aviation environment director Michael Gill stated that the association recently accepted an invitation to side with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's United for Wildlife Task Force, which will investigate a whole series of issues and actions to help put a stop the illegal wildlife trade. A representative of a shipping company stated that the industry was not aware of the ploys used by wildlife smugglers, but there was common awareness that such crimes can happen.
Above and below: A box full of ivory hidden inside a stack of timber confiscated in Malaysia in 2012
A cargo of ivory bangles revealed in Germany on its way to China from Nigeria
Confiscated turtles and tortoises

It is highly essential to educate and train handlers of various cargoes in order to combat the threat of illegal wildlife trade. Just intercepting various parcels and shipments suspected of containing illegal wildlife products after they have slipped past customs and security personnel in a specific country is not sufficient enough to fight this ongoing threat. Some airports and ports have specialized units trained in properly identifying cargoes containing endangered wildlife. However, there are several other such places around the world where security and customs personnel are overwhelmed by problems related to other issues such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, etc. and that they probably do not have time to intercept illegal shipments containing illegal wildlife products. For this reason, it is extremely important to thoroughly educate and train customs and security agents in these places so that they can properly identify cargoes containing endangered species or even body parts of such wild animals under serious threat from poaching and wildlife trade. Furthermore, seaports should be provided with special scanners that airports have in order to help prevent any illegal wildlife products from being sold to unsuspecting consumers. In addition, it is also crucial to target and shut down factories in Africa where elephant ivory is being manufactured to be shipped to China. This would further help in further putting a stop to the demand of ivory in the country, along with awareness campaigns directed at general public. The number of endangered species, including elephants and rhinos, being targeted to feed the growing demand from general public in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries is staggering. It is time to take a tough stand against the ongoing threat of illegal wildlife trade and put a stop to it by any means necessary.

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