Multi-agency efforts disrupt wildlife trafficking

15 July 2015

Brussels, 15 July 2015


The World Customs Organization (WCO) is pleased to announce that an inter-regional Operation focusing on the illegal trade in wildlife in South America and Mexico resulted in 23 arrests and over 775 animal specimens seized.  These included live tortoises, turtles, parrots, monkeys, as well as a caiman and a white-tailed deer. Additionally, throughout the operation, 17 tons of dried brown sea cucumbers, 168 kg of shark fins and more than 2,000 timber logs were also seized.

Operation FLYAWAY, organized by the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) South America in close cooperation with the WCO, Peru and the United States, focused on air passenger, air cargo and postal and express courier shipments, during ten days in late June 2015. In addition to CITES listed species, Operation FLYAWAY also focused on nationally protected flora and fauna under national laws such as the US Lacey Act.  In Colombia and Peru, national cooperation and coordination among various authorities led to an expansion of the focus area to include interior locations such as markets, and restaurants.  Fourteen countries within the origin, transit or destination chain participated in Operation FLYAWAY, specifically Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The joint efforts of Operation FLYAWAY brought together national level participation from Customs, police and wildlife authorities to target the illegal trade and transport of protected specimens. Interagency cooperation has resulted in some laudable enforcement efforts; for example the seizures of an Ocelot skin, a stuffed Humboldt Penguin and Sea Turtle shells, all of which are species threatened with extinction.  Furthermore, a rare live Yellow Tailed Woolly Monkey only found in the Peruvian Andes was saved from poachers. In Mexico, authorities rescued 209 domestic pets from illegal pet facilities.    

Although Operation FLYAWAY focused on wildlife originating from South America and Mexico, the controls implemented by participants often led to seizures of specimens from other regions.  Close to 4,000 dietary supplement pills containing protected plants were seized as a result of this operation.     

Operation FLYAWAY included international support from the CITES Secretariat, and the regional support of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations Attaché Offices located throughout South America and Mexico. Operation FLYAWAY was a classic example of the extraordinary benefits which can be achieved through interagency coordination and cooperation.  

“Operations such as FLYAWAY are tremendous for mobilizing organizations to move beyond dialogue to action,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “Buoyed by the success of this operation, I am confident that participants will benefit in the future from the experience gained and that the sharing and exchange of vital information will continue.”

Throughout Operation FLYAWAY, participants used CENcomm, the WCO’s secure communication tool, to coordinate enforcement efforts and to exchange relevant information which facilitated the targeting and seizure of illegal shipments.  One such example of this timely communication took place between Peru and the United States regarding the illegal shipment of Green Jays and Band –Tailed Pigeons pursuant to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Information obtained during the Operation will be further assessed and analyzed in order to update relevant existing risk profiles and targeting criteria used by Customs administrations and other actors involved in combating the illegal trade in wildlife.

Investigations and analyses are continuing.