CITES meet brings global wildlife crime crackdown
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1994:
Pakistani officials on October 26 freed 86 endangered houbara bus-
tards in the Dera Ghazi Khan desert, a day after seizing them from poachers
who were trying to bootleg them to the Middle East through Karachi. The
release was the figurative opening ceremony for two weeks of international
legal, political, and investigative gymnastics, as nations around the world
cracked down on wildlife trafficking on the eve of the CITES triennial meeting
in Fort Lauderdale ( page 1).
Taiwan, under U.S. trade sanctions for failing to halt wildlife traf-
ficking, on October 28 increased the fines and jail penalties for violating its
wildlife protection law; on November 3 gave rhino horn dealers 30 days to reg-
ister their stocks before facing seizure; on November 7 pledged it would honor
a proposed global ban on importing birds’ nests; and on November 10
announced a pact with South Africa to crack down on the rhino horn trade.
Hong Kong, also on October 28, proposed stiffer wildlife trafficking
penalties similar to those Taiwan introduced the same day.
Zambia and Zimbabwe on October 29 announced an agreement to
cooperate in apprehending poachers active along their mutual border, after
years of blaming each other for the problem.
An undercover investigator for Traffic International, a branch of the
World Wildlife Fund, led police in Kashmir, India, to the November 7 seizure
of 1,366 pelts from rare and endangered animals, worth an estimated $1 mil-
lion––including the pelt of a 14-foot tiger, the biggest ever recorded. The vic-
tims also included two other tigers, three clouded leopards, nine marble cats,
45 palm civets, 45 leopards, 135 fishing cats, 184 Himalayan and red foxes,
360 jungle cats, and 564 leopard cats. The unidentified informant had arranged
to pay two brokers $81,000 for the pelts. In August 1993 he led police to a sim-
ilar seizure in New Delhi, worth an estimated $670,000.
On November 8, as CITES convened, Thai police raided a Bangkok
house they said was “a main distribution center for wildlife meat.” Several
bears, a monkey, and various snakes were recovered alive.
Also on November 8, U . S . District Judge Manuel Real handed
Stephen Earl Cook, 46, eight years in prison for smuggling more than 600
endangered red-kneed tarantulas from Mexico. Although the crime carried a
lawbook penalty of up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million, the
eight years were the maximum permitted under federal sentencing guidelines.
On November 10, Japan announced the October arrest of Ichiro
Isono, 24, in the act of trying to bootleg 15 spotted pond turtles and 100 Indian
star tortoises––protected by CITES––through Narita airport security after a trip
to Thailand. The reason for the delayed announcement of the bust was not dis-
Finally, at the CITES meeting, China, India, Indonesia, Japan,
Malaysia, Nepal, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam
offered a joint resolution to impose voluntary bans on domestic trade in tiger
parts. Tigers are native to all 10 nations––and endangered in all 10 by demand
for tiger bone, used in traditional Asian remedies for rheumatism and arthritis.
Not all governments joined in the crackdowns. The World Wildlife
Fund attacked Canada on November 1 for failing to implement regulations to
enforce the two-year-old Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of
International and Interprovincial Trade Act. Royal Canadian Mounted Police
investigator Ken Chatel admitted that the traffic in bear parts, walrus tusks,
and eagle feathers is fast expanding.
Freelance wildlife reporter Jessica Speart appeared in Fort Lauderdale
to publicize her expose “Deadly Cargo,” published in the November issue of
the Massachusetts SPCA magazine Animals, about the increasingly strong con-
nections between wildlife trafficking and drug trafficking. Of the 655 pounds
of cocaine seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1993, Speart said, more
than a third came in cases also involving animals. Typically the drugs were
hidden inside body cavities of animals; sometimes they were disguised as insu-
lation or packing materials. Speart’s expose was partially based on information
from the ANIMAL PEOPLE archives. According to the British-based
Environmental Investigative Agency, the illegal wildlife trade is worth $5 bil-
lion a year, ranking second only to the drug trade in illicit dollar volume.