Category Archives: Wildlife Smuggling

5 Years in Prison for Canadian Turtle Smuggler

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On April 12, Kai Xu, a Canadian man caught in 2014 attempting to smuggle 51 live turtles in his pants, was sentenced to fifty-seven months in prison by a US federal judge. According to prosecutors, Canadian border guards had found “41 turtles taped to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs”, and he had already sent over 1000 turtles to Shanghai in suitcases via a co-conspirator.
Since his arrest in September 2014, the 27-year-old has spent his days in prison. He has admitted he’s tried to smuggle over 1600 turtles, ranging in species from Eastern box turtles and red-eared sliders to Diamondback Terrapins, from the US to China between April 2014 and his arrest. The Associated Press reported that Xu entered Michigan multiple times to buy and ship turtles to China without a federal permit. Assistant US Attorney Sara Woodward noted his wildlife smuggling crimes to be among the largest in recent years.
Xu, who claimed in a letter to US District Judge John Corbett O’Meara to be selling the turtles in part to fund his college degree, thanked agents “for stopping the darkness of my greed and ignorance”, and expressed remorse for his actions. The sentencing marks a victory against the dangerous and widespread global trend of wildlife trafficking.
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Source: Dasgupta, Shreya. “Turtle smuggler sentenced to five years in prison.” Mongabay, 18 April, 2016.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Talk About the Pangolin…

cute_baby_pangolinEstablished April 22, 1970, Earth Day serves to raise awareness of the state and well-being of our planet. One important measure of that well-being is the health and stability of Earth’s more than 8 million known species, from little-known bacteria and fungi to well-loved and long-championed megafauna like elephants and whales. Yet, though all these species serve important roles within their ecosystems and environments, lesser-known species face added challenges for conservationists.

Just look at the pangolin: sadly, the most-trafficked animal in the world is one that most have never even heard of. The highly-endangered animal is trafficked for their scales, boiled for use in traditional medicine, for their meat, a delicacy in parts of Asia, and for their blood, used as a healing tonic. From 2006 to 2015, nearly one million animals were poached. In addition to Asia, the US has a huge demand for pangolin parts, so conservation groups must work to raise both local and global public awareness of pangolins to curb this dangerous market before it’s too late. If current trends continue, the pangolin will likely become extinct before the world takes notice.

10abb2b50Docile and nocturnal, pangolins make their homes in savannahs, tropical forests, and brush, with four species known to live in Africa and four in Asia. The insectivores feed mainly on ants and termites and have highly acute senses of  smell and hearing to make up for poor vision. The solitary creatures have rarely been studied in the wild, but  have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

This March the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a positive development for the pangolin: they will consider including it in the Endangered Species Act.  “The Endangered Species Act is among the strongest conservation laws in the world, and listing all pangolin species under the Act will be a dramatic and positive step in saving the species from extinction,” said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation.

So, though conservation efforts and individual awareness of endangered species are vital every day of the year, Earth Day 2016 is the perfect chance for people to learn more about this gentle and fragile animal and to consider steps necessary to prevent its extinction.

pangolins

 

Source: Swan, Carol Ann. “Earth Day 2016 is for Endangered Species Like the Pangolin.” BlastingNews, 22 April 2016.

 

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3-D Printed Sea Turtle Eggs:Will Poachers Know the Difference?

Conservationists have been putting technology to good use, creating artificial eggs with wireless transmitters that can trick and track black market traders.

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Each year, hundreds of eggs from endangered sea turtles are dug up from the beaches of Nicaragua and other countries and carted off to restaurants across the globe. Each egg can be sold anywhere from 20 cents at local bars to $150 apiece in the US or China, where the eggs are seen as rare delicacies. However, the process by which these eggs wind up on the black market is still murky, giving rise to nonprofit group Paso Pacifico’s new plan to shed light on the eggs’ journey.

Using 3-D printing technology, the organization is developing fake sea turtle eggs, each the size of a ping-pong ball, containing GSM transmitters which will track egg-smuggling routes across the globe. This innovative idea won the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored by U.S. Aid for International Development, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. Paso Pacifico and its partners were awarded tech support along with $10,000 to bring the concept to fruition. “The plan is to start testing them in the next nesting season, which will start in July,” said Eduardo Boné-Morón, the organization’s managing director.

Right now, a few improvements are still needed. Though initial prototypes were revealed at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Paso Pacifico is still seeking out the best quality transmitters and is working with an art studio near Hollywood to perfect the shell’s texture and color. The eggs will then be placed in Nicaragua to test their success in tricking poachers. Said Boné-Morón of the plan’s next phase: “Our rangers will locate vulnerable active nests that are more likely to be poached, for example, nests that are closer to trails. We will plant as many eggs as possible in the beach to increase the possibility of poachers taking the artificial eggs.”

Sea turtle nest

Because the smugglers have to transport their precious goods immediately after poaching (the eggs spoil within 15 days), the tracker eggs may quickly reveal a wide web of illicit trade networks. “If these guys have the capacity to send an egg from a beach in Central America to China in 15 days, it’s a well-structured network,”  Boné-Morón said. He believes the eggs may implicate several rounds of middlemen passing the eggs along, as well as the initial poachers. He also hopes that some smugglers may be deterred by the knowledge that some eggs could be bugged: “Eventually the poachers will learn there is something wrong with the beaches. That is totally fine with us. The reason they’re poaching right now is because it’s so easy. If they see that we’re watching them, we may be able to discourage them.”

Once development and successful testing has been carried out, Boné-Morón wants to expand the use of artificial eggs to wherever sea turtles lay their eggs around the globe. “We want to have eggs that are cheap enough that any nonprofit or any government agency can buy them and plant them on the beaches all over the world,” he said.

Source: Platt, John R. “Faking Out Poachers With 3-D-Printed Sea Turtle Eggs. ” Takepart, 24 March 2016.

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Wildlife Trade on Facebook

Illegally-imported orang-utan Cambodia

Social media’s ability to put illegal wildlife traffickers in touch with many potential buyers quickly, cheaply and anonymously is of great concern for threatened wildlife and enforcement agencies

From the Malayan sun bear to a blood python, Malaysians seem to have found a booming marketplace for wild animals on Facebook for primarily the illegal pet trade of protected species. Much of this online trade is carried out in closed Facebook groups, and involves live, high-profile and threatened species for which trade is strictly prohibited in Peninsular Malaysia.

During a four month period,  TRAFFIC’s team monitored the activity of 14 groups on Facebook. They found that more than 300 individual animals, belonging to 80 different species, were for sale in the “private/closed”groups.

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Most of the 14 Facebook Groups involved in the illegal trade of wild animals were “Closed Groups”, according to the report, and needed membership to view or trade within the group. These groups had close to 68,000 members

What was also found, 93% of the species that were put for sale on Facebook, have legal protection in Peninsular Malaysia.

Mark! FACEBOOK needs to put a STOP to this IMMEDIATELY.

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Caught: The Killers of Elephants

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Boniface Matthew Mariango,  “SHETANI” / “The DEVIL”

Boniface Matthew Mariango,  “SHETANI” has spent the past years managing at least 15 poaching syndicates throughout Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Mozambique and southern Kenya, according to the Elephant Action League. Last Thursday he was arrested in Tanzania.

This arrest is another substantial breakthrough in Tanzania’s anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts, with implications also reaching into neighboring countries. Finally, those directly responsible for illegal Ivory trade are getting caught for the heinous crimes by international law enforcement.

Queen of Ivory

 Yang Fenglan, a Chinese national “The Queen of Ivory,”

It is believed that 96 elephants are killed every day, 35,000 a year in Africa by poachers for their valuable ivory. With only 400,000 elephants left in the Africa wild, it is believed that if this rate of mass murder continues, elephants will be extinct by the year 2025. Breakthrough arrests like Bonicafe Mariango and recently Ms. Yang Fenglan, a Chinese national “The Queen of Ivory,” cannot come soon enough.

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Recent commitment to ban elephant ivory by President Barack Hussein Obama and Chinese Present Xi Jinping gives hope for elephants.

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Costa Rica Bans Sport Hunting

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Costa Rica just became the first country in Latin America to ban sport hunting. Costa Rica’s Congress voted unanimously on Monday to approve the ban, which will protect the country’s wildlife – including several species of native big cats. Any hunters caught breaking the new law will face jail time or hefty fines.

Hunters from around the world travel to Costa Rica to hunt the country’s jaguars and pumas for sport and to capture these species of cats and sell them on the black market as pets.  Illegal hunting tours bring in a pretty penny for tour leaders, and their popularity helped spur the newly announced ban. Parrots are also a target, since they can be captured and smuggled out to be sold as pets around the world.

Kinkajou climbing on branches in Costa Rica. ca. 1980-1997 Costa Rica

The Costa Rican people started the initiative to protect their wildlife  it began as a grass-roots campaign that brought over 177,000 signatures to the national Congress. Now that the bill has been approved, violators of the hunting ban will face up to four months in jail and fines up to $3,000.

Earlier this fall, an amendment was made to the country’s Wildlife Conservation law. The new hunting ban strengthens this reform. Costa Rica is a very environmentally conscious country, and it has placed a major focus on conserving its rich biodiversity.

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Wildlife Criminal Arrested

Vast Haris Nasution

A prominent Indonesian wildlife trafficker who was arrested while trying to sell a baby orangutan was sentenced last week to two years behind bars and ordered to pay a Rp10 million ($752) fine. The trafficker, Vast Haris Nasution, admitted to running a trading network that stretches from Indonesia’s westernmost provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, where he illegally sourced a variety of protected species and animal parts from local hunters and dealers, to Java in the center of the country.

Besides the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), Vast Haris sold golden cats, porcupines, slow loris, siamangs, gibbons, hornbills and baby crocodiles, as well animal parts like hornbill beaks and the skins, claws and canine teeth of Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae). His capture followed the arrest and conviction of one of his staff, Dedek Setiawan. In April last year, conservation authorities found Dedek in the North Sumatran city of Medan with two golden cats, a siamang and a gibbon. He had been using the Internet to connect with buyers. A few months later he was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined Rp5 million.

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Indonesia is a hotbed of illegal wildlife trading, but traffickers often escape significant punishment, so the verdict constitutes a win for Indonesia’s biodiversity. It is hoped this firm decision from the judge and prosecution today will have a deterrent effect among the community, sending a clear message that wildlife crimes can and will be punished.

Since the early 70s there have been over 3,000 confiscations of illegal pet orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo but only a handful of actual prosecutions, and all of them only in the last few years. Effective law enforcement and the threat of serious consequences for those involved is an essential component of the conservation arsenal if there is to be any hope of preventing the extinction of orangutans, and many other heavily traded and persecuted species here.

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