Tag Archives: Wildlife Smuggling

A Year in Review: Seven Stories that Highlight Hope for Conservation in 2016

Channel Islands fox rebound

The Channel Islands, eight islands off the coast of Southern California, house more of their adorable cat-size foxes (found nowhere else on earth) than ever in recent history. Thanks to conservation efforts including captive breeding of the foxes and relocation of predatory eagles, the population was recently removed from the endangered species list.

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Photo source: Don DeBold

Chernobyl wildlife boom

Though Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded over 30 years ago, it has left behind a wasteland that most scientists thought would remain barren for years to come. However, in 2014 University of Georgia researchers left dozens of cameras in a heavily forested area of Chernobyl’s 1600-square-mile Exclusion Zone and saw that boars, wolves, foxes, raccoon dogs and many more species had reclaimed the land as their own. “It’s basically an incredibly large sanctuary” for animals, said one researcher of the follow-up study and accompanying photos which were published this year.

Robotic animals used to trick poachers

US authorities have come up with an unexpected but highly successful method to catch poachers: placing remote-controlled robotic animals like deer, bear, and moose in illegal hunting hubs and apprehending those foolhardy enough to shoot at them.

Peanut butter and drones provide a creative way to help adorable ferrets

Native to the US, beautiful black-footed ferrets currently hold the spot of North America’s most endangered species, due in large part to a plague killing prairie dogs, their main source of food. This year the federal government began testing a unique and tasty solution that could drive the ferrets’ population to healthy numbers: using drones to drop peanut butter-flavored pellets laced with plague vaccine on unsuspecting prairie dogs (about 60-90% of prairie dogs fell for the trick in recent tests), helping their populations recover enough to restore a balanced ecosystem to the American grasslands where the dogs and ferrets reside.

Full-time Hedgehog Officer for British Town

Officials in Ipswich, a village on the eastern coast of the UK, have recently noted declines in typically high hedgehog populations, so a local wildlife organization created the post of “Hedgehog Officer”, tasking the British woman who beat around 150 applicants with conserving this adorable local creature.

Jaguars settling in Arizona

Jaguars claimed much of the western US as their own before being completely hunted to death, but 2016 gave two positive signs that some of the creatures may have migrated from northern Mexico into the Arizona desert. A few months following the appearance of a gorgeous male, caught on camera and nicknamed El Jefe, a second male cat was photographed prowling around an Arizona army installation. Though Arizona wildlife officials dampened some excitement with the revelation that the closest breeding population is 130 miles south, the presence of these cats brings hope that more may eventually find their way to their old stomping grounds in the US.

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Strong protections for some of world’s most endangered animals

The 2016 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concluded by creating tough new regulations against killing and trading endangered animals currently vulnerable to poachers, including African gray parrots, pangolins, and manta rays.

Post by Shannon Cuthbert

Source: Brulliard, Karin. “Nine great news stories about animals in 2016.” The Washington Post. 30 December 2016.

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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Christopher@WCFF.org
www.WCFF.org

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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.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
www.WCFF.org

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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 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.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
& Biodiversity Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, FRGS
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
http://www.WCFF.org

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, Inc.

Ringleader of Rhino Wildlife Crimes Punished

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Zhifei Li, only thirty years old, the owner of an antique business in China, was sentenced today to 70 months in prison for heading an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth more than $4.5 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The sentence – one of the longest ever imposed in the United States for a wildlife smuggling offense – was announced by Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey; Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice; Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

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Li, 30, of Shandong, China, the owner of Overseas Treasure Finding in Shandong, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas to a total of 11 counts: one count of conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act; seven counts of smuggling; one count of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act; and two counts of making false wildlife documents. Judge Salas also imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

Li was arrested in Florida in January 2013 on federal charges brought under seal in New Jersey and shortly after arriving in the country. Before he was arrested, he purchased two endangered black rhinoceros horns from an undercover USFWS agent in a Miami Beach hotel room for $59,000 while attending an antique show. Li was arrested as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in Newark federal court, Li admitted that he was the “boss” of three antique dealers in the United States whom he paid to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to him via Hong Kong. One of those individuals was Qiang Wang, aka “Jeffrey Wang,” who was sentenced to 37 months in prison on Dec. 5, 2013, in the Southern District of New York. Li played a leadership and organizational role in the smuggling conspiracy by arranging for financing to pay for the wildlife, purchasing and negotiating prices, directing how to smuggle the items out of the United States, and getting the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the goods and smuggle them to him in mainland China.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Salas ordered Li to serve two years of supervised release and to forfeit $3.5 million in proceeds of his criminal activity as well as several Asian artifacts. Various ivory objects seized by the USFWS as part of the investigation have also been surrendered.

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The result of Mr. Zhifei Li’s greed…

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, Inc.
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