Customs capacity building in Africa to combat illicit wildlife trade yields spectacular results

01 March 2011

Customs capacity building in Africa to combat illicit wildlife trade yields spectacular results

Brussels, 1 March 2011

Press Release

Over 100 seizures of wildlife protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) were made in a two-week transregional operation in January and February 2011 to combat the illegal cross-border trade in great apes and other wildlife species including their derivatives.

Increasing wildlife crime and associated corruption is a matter of grave concern to governments and the international community; being on the frontline at international border crossings enables Customs to play a critical role in the fight against transnational organized crime which is more often than not linked to the smuggling of endangered species.

This recent enforcement initiative was coordinated by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and conducted within the Framework of Project Gapin – Great Apes and Integrity – which is financed by the Swedish Government and designed to stem illegal trade flows whilst cracking down on corrupt practices that help to fuel illicit trafficking.

Operation GAPIN resulted in the seizure of more than 22 tonnes and 13 000 pieces of protected wildlife covering over 31 species, including one live monkey (“Macaca sylvanus” species), two dead monkeys (bushmeat of the Macaques species), 295 pieces of ivory (statues, jewellery, chopsticks, etc.), 57 kg of raw ivory, four rhino horns, 4 726 kg of pangolin meat, 323 seahorses, and one leopard skin.

Other products detained during the operation and still undergoing further investigation to determine their exact CITES status include: 5 300 kg of shark fins, 12 056 pieces of sea shells, 11 250 kg of sea cucumbers, 1 000 kg of eel intestines, and 50 kg of bushmeat.

“The World Customs Organization and its 177 Member Customs administrations remain committed to protecting the earth’s natural heritage through effective border enforcement,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “Enhancing Customs’ application of export controls on protected wildlife through capacity building and raising the awareness of frontline Customs officers on the dangers posed by corruption has ensured the success of this important transregional operation,” he added.

Seizures and/or detentions were made in Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Africa – four of the fifteen countries that form part of Project GAPIN while the balance were made in countries outside Africa: Belgium, China, the Czech Republic, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Operation GAPIN was preceded by a one-week intensive, specialized capacity building training session in Mombasa, Kenya for frontline Customs officials in December 2010, which focused on building the capability of officers to more effectively tackle wildlife smuggling and to more readily identify any integrity and corruption issues.

Some of the countries participating in the training session made a number of significant interceptions during the actual operation and moreover, Vietnam Customs seized 1.2 tonnes of ivory shipped from Tanzania via Malaysia just prior to the start of the operation.

“The WCO will continue its drive to build the capacity of Customs administrations across the globe to protect endangered wild fauna and flora through efficient and effective border enforcement in cooperation with its international, regional and national partners,” stated Secretary General Mikuriya.

A total of 14 African countries participated in the operation, supported by 25 countries in Asia and Europe as well as the CITES Secretariat, the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices, the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, and national CITES management authorities, wildlife enforcement agencies and in some countries the police.

It is estimated that illegal trade in wildlife is, in term of profits, the second largest criminal activity next to narcotics smuggling. Almost all great ape populations continue to decline drastically, severely threatened by the combined effects of hunting and illegal export to third countries. The population of chimpanzees across Western Africa for example has decreased by 75% in the past 30 years!

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