China Fuels Illegal Wildlife Trade Across The Globe

Earlier this week, Africa saw its largest-ever wildlife crime bust. The four month undercover investigation came to a close this weekend as undercover agents caught 57 criminals red-handed at ivory markets, border crossings, and airports in the five participating countries- Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana. Included in the group of criminals were several Chinese nationals, attempting to smuggle ivory out of an airport in Kenya.

Officials seized 1,000 kg of ivory during the bust, as well as hippo teeth and animal pelts of cheetah, leopard, serval cat and reticulated python skin.

The investigation, called Operation Baba (in honor of Gilbert Baba, a Ghanaian ranger killed in the line of duty a decade ago by poachers), was a collaboration between the Kenya Wildlife Service, INTERPOL, and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, Africa’s first ever task force to fight wildlife crime and smuggling across international borders. It initiated as a result made to INTERPOL by African elephant range states to help the continent deal with illegal elephant poaching. As the operation came together, more than 300 staff from the police, customs, wildlife agencies, national intelligence agencies and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force were involved across the five participating countries.

Experts say that the growing presence of China in Africa is seen as a major driver of the ivory trade. Each kilogram of poached elephant tusk may fetch $35 US dollars, the same piece of ivory can sell for $100 in Ethiopia, and up to $800 if it makes it all the way to China. Since 2004, the global ivory trade has been steadily increasing, with China as the number one destination.

Now let’s jump to another corner of the globe….

Earlier in November, Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks conducted two raids resulting in some of the largest-scale seizures the country has seen, indicating the growing sophistication of wildlife smuggling in the region. The first raid took place on November 4 and found 900 oven-ready owls, defeathered and plastic-wrapped, including 796 barn owls, 95 spotted wood-owls, 74 buffy fish-owls, 8 barred eagle-owls and 4 brown wood-owls. The state of the owls indicates they are intended for food.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen a big shipment like this of owls,” said Chris Shepherd, a senior program officer for the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

The November 4th raid also included live monitor lizards, and some wild pigs. Animal parts from Malaysian porcupine, Malaysian pangolin, greater mouse deer, reticulated python and sun bear were included. All of these species are protected to some extent by Malaysian law. The sun bear is also banned by CITES, and is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. To see the full redlist, click here.

During the second raid, held just three days later, 7,000 live clouded monitor lizards were found, also banned by CITES. According to WWF, the lizards were likely headed to China to be eaten.

Earlier in the month, Malaysia also seized 10,000 endangered sea turtle eggs, being smuggled in from the Philippines in the “largest ever haul of smuggled turtle eggs.”

And in July, officials in Indonesia seized a China-bound shipment of 14 tons of pangolins.

A report by the aforementioned TRAFFIC found that China’s consumption of wildlife for food and medicine is now rising. Traditional Chinese medicine has been growing 10 percent annually since 2004. At the same time, 15 to 20 percent of medicinal plants and animals are now considered endangered. In a survey conducted in six cities in China on wildlife consumption, 44 percent said they had consumed wildlife in the last 12 months, 36 percent for good and 16 percent for medicinal use. The full report also covers results regarding China’s ivory trade.

China, we need you to get on board with conservation!!!

Raids in three countries in two different regions of the world have found that illegal animal parts, or even animals themselves, are coming your way! Your delightful baiji, endemic to your Yangtze River, is now functionally extinct, if it has not completely gone the way of the dodo. Please don’t let this happen to other creatures!

And just so you know, I am not saying that everyone in China needs to get on board with this, just those who are participating in illegal activities. Those of you who are already conservation-minded, I missed getting to see you at this past summer’s annual meeting for the Society for Conservation Biology. I’m sorry your funding to come speak was cut due to the earthquake. Hopefully I will get to listen to and meet with you at the 2009 meeting for the SCB at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing!!!!

To see the full article with photos and links, visit OH, FOR THE LOVE OF SCIENCE!

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