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Criminals trading in protected wildlife targeted in global Customs enforcement operation

Criminals trading in protected wildlife targeted in global Customs enforcement operation 

Brussels, 22 November 2012 

Press Release 

A global Customs operation spanning three continents led to over 70 major seizures of endangered flora and fauna and their derivatives, such as live tortoises, rhino horns, ivory tusks, a leopard skin, dead seahorses and pangolin scales, trade in which is prohibited or regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO), Operation HOPE targeted air and maritime consignments, as well as passengers, from 22-31 October 2012 to identify illicit shipments of endangered wildlife and other species with the support of the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and, in some countries, national CITES management authorities, wildlife enforcement agencies and the police.

The joint efforts of 41 Customs administrations in Africa, Asia and Europe, including participating partners, resulted in several arrests and the seizure of 2,100 items, including two rhino horns, 53 pieces of rhino skin, 450 kg of raw ivory, 334 pieces of worked ivory (mainly jewellery), 140 tortoises (from which only 49 survived the smuggling attempt), 130 dead seahorses, 25 kg of pangolin scales, 21 bags made from reptile skin, one leopard skin and 20 orchids.

Besides intercepting more than 150 kg of bushmeat too, of which 25 kg proved to be meat from protected species like crocodile, pangolin and python, Customs officials discovered 408 tonnes of unprocessed teak wood without the necessary export licence, 6.6 kg of heroin, 13.5 kg of gold from illegal mining operations and 15,800 pieces of cigarettes.

“With endangered wildlife under increasing threat by criminal entrepreneurs and organized crime syndicates, the international community cannot afford to rest on its laurels as an extinct species is lost forever,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “Operation HOPE has shown that coordinated action at international and national levels can deliver the kind of success that actually gives us hope for the future,” he added.

Enhancing frontline Customs officials’ application of export controls on protected wildlife and other species through focused capacity building and active awareness-raising programmes about the dangers posed by corruption has ensured the success of this important transregional operation to combat illicit trade and protect the earth’s natural heritage.

The Operation was conducted within the framework of Project GAPIN, an initiative coordinated by the WCO and financed by the Swedish Government to build the capacities of Customs officers at borders to detect, intercept and seize illegal shipments of wildlife and other endangered species, as well as to prevent corrupt practices that could fuel illicit trade by promoting a culture of integrity.

Seizures were made in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania – nine of the nineteen countries that form part of Project GAPIN, while the balance were made in countries outside Africa – Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Participants used CENcomm, the WCO’s secure communication tool, to exchange intelligence and information during the course of Operation HOPE.