Holding social media companies accountable for facilitating illegal wildlife trade

Florida authorities bust trafficking ring smuggling thousands of native turtles

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019

Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.

(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/turtle-traffic/> Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission.

The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.

More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.

Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.

After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.

The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.

“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
the <https://conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-species-world/>
most endangered species of sea turtles.

The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.

The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.

While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in

“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.

“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

Twenty countries to fight wildlife trafficking as organised crime

Latin American and European governments signed the Lima Declaration to combat a crime worth more than US$10 billion annually

Vanessa Romo October 10, 2019

wildlife trafficking

The first high level regional Latin American meeting on wildlife trafficking, the fourth most profitable illegal trade, took place in Lima, Peru, last week (image: Serfor)

The first high level conference on the illegal wildlife trade in the Americas, attended by representatives from 30 countries, issued an urgent call to treat trafficking as a serious crime.

The meeting, organised by the Peruvian government and major international organisations including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) culminated in 20 Latin American nations signing the Lima Declaration, an agreement consisting of 21 measures to fight an illegal activity worth more than
US$10 billion annually.

“This type of trafficking is the fourth most common in the world after drugs, weapons and people,” said Jorge Montenegro, Peru’s agriculture minister.

Environment minister Fabiola Muñoz added: “[It is] a problem that is embedded in the networks of corruption.”

Parties to the conference identified common problems from the need to link the illegal wildlife trade to organised crime, to non-existent sanctions against criminals and mechanisms enabling countries to coordinate responses. Nor is it yet fully understood how the networks that profit from this illegal business operate.

Each signatory will have to share results of their efforts at the next group meeting in Colombia in 2021.
A high-flying crime

Latin America is home to 40% of the world’s biodiversity and about 25% of endangered species, according to the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Wildlife trafficking is a great threat to this. In Peru alone, 318 species are considered potential victims and 86 feature on the IUCN Red List.

Jessica Gálvez-Durand, from Peru’s National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor), said an average of 4,000 to 5,000 specimens are seized each year.

“Between 2000 and 2018, more than 79,000 species were detected, mostly amphibians and birds,” she said, adding that so far this year there have been 430 seizures.

However well such operations advance, illegal mechanisms to bypass government inspectors are also improving.

Yovana Murillo, health and wildlife trafficking coordinator at environmental NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said two years ago in Peru authorities found 29 Galapagos turtles on a bus and a number of Spain-bound Andean cock-of-the-rocks at the airport.

Kurth Duchez, a WCS wildlife traffic officer, added that reports have emerged from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize of embryonated macaw eggs being sent to Asia, a form easier to transport than when they’re hatched.

We can’t fight 21st century crimes with 20th century tools.

Some countries need to impose more severe sanctions to combat this crime. Panama, for example, currently only has a maximum penalty of five years, while in Uruguay wildlife trafficking is considered a basic infraction.

“Belize took tough actions after cases of jaguar hunting appeared. A reward was offered to arrest offenders, penalties were raised and their legislation strengthened,” Duchez said.

In Guatemala, which is developing a national strategy, the need to link trafficking with other crimes like smuggling, firearms offences and customs fraud would enable more severe penalties to be applied.

Peru was one of the first countries to develop this strategy and now associates trafficking with organised crime offences.

“We work closely with the Office of the Specialised Prosecutor in Environmental Matters (FEMA) and we are close to allowing that classification,” said Alberto Gonzales-Zuñiga, director of Serfor.

shark fin wildlife trafficking
Since November 2018, 5800 kilos of shark fins destined for China have been seized (image: Oceana)

It is necessary to coordinate action against trafficking with border countries, and also with the illegal transit of natural resources.

“With the reactivation of the South American Wildlife Enforcement Network (SudWEN) there will be better communication between authorities.
When we rescued the 29 Galapagos turtles, the transfer took more than nine months, a process that should be faster,” said Flor María de Vega, from Peru’s wildlife crime prosecution team.

Adrian Reuter, WCS species trafficking coordinator for Latin America,
said: “It’s time for countries to review their regulations and make the necessary reforms, both in coordination and in processes like wiretapping that they can use to investigate these criminal networks.”

Gustavo Romero, a Peruvian official of the National Superintendence of Customs and Tax Administration (Sunat) agreed. The Global Container Program, created by the UN and the World Customs Organisation and which is used to detect drug shipments, is now being used to detect illegal timber trafficking. This could easily be applied to the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

“We have a strong infrastructure for better results,” Romero said, adding that for a year they’ve used an early warning system to identify certain persons suspected of trafficking as they travel.

the estimated value of a shipment of sea horses seized last week (US$)

Peruvian authorities first saw the fruits of these efforts a week ago when they seized more than five tonnes of seahorses being transferred from an artisanal boat to an industrial vessel. The cargo was valued at
US$6 million.

“It can have an economic return similar to drug trafficking,” Romero said. When traffickers become aware of port controls they simply adapt their methods since it is so lucrative, he added.

Nor is internet wildlife trafficking is not effectively controlled.

“Every month we receive 20 to 30 complaints of possible animal trafficking offenses that appear online,” said Serfor’s Gálvez-Durand.
Targeted species

The conference identified the jaguar as an emblematic species of the Americas. Its fangs, skin, bones and testicles are sold in Asia, and especially China, Li Lishu, WCS’ China specialist noted.

China has played an increasingly important role in fighting the trade in recent years and this is reflected in seizures and investigations, both in markets and the countries of origin. In the last 18 months, Chinese law enforcement has brought 580 cases for trafficking endangered species, much of which is wildlife.

However, Li said China has not yet fully recognised Latin America as a high-risk area for these crimes.

“They have begun to learn more about the danger of the jaguar thanks to the international agreement that exists to conserve it, but China’s focus continues to be on Asia and Africa for parts of elephants, tigers and rhinos,” she said.

jaguar teeth wildlife trafficking
Jaguar fangs are highly valued in China for their supposed healing and aphrodisiac properties (photo: Ecobol)

Li said that the Chinese government is open to countries’ concerns about these crimes. “The problem is the lack of knowledge on both sides about who should coordinate actions. While in Peru, wildlife functions are administered under the ministry of agriculture, in China they are under the natural resources administrator,” she said.

For a year, Li has been collecting data on endangered species that are marketed in China. She has found most adverts for green iguanas, which are sold as pets and also taken to hatcheries.

In Peru, birds and reptiles are the most trafficked, although primates, especially the yellow-tailed monkey, are the most vulnerable.
Gálvez-Durand said that Bolivia and Ecuador are also nearby entry points, and that from Lima trafficked species leave for Europe, Asia and the US.

In Colombia, ornamental river fish feature highly, as well as snakes and reptiles such as the golden tegu, and birds such as macaws and parrots, according to Sonia Uribe, from Colombia’s Directorate of National Taxes and Customs (DIAN).

Duchez said that birds and reptiles such as green and black iguana, tree turtles and vipers are the most trafficked from Central American countries.

“In Honduras and Belize there is also a lot of illegal trade in the queen snail. Generally, this traffic goes to US and European markets because Asia demands large volumes,” he said.
Work to do

Communication is a problem within countries of the region and across them. The Lima Declaration aims to strengthen cooperation at border controls.

Antonio Roma, justice system coordinator of Peru’s Assistance Program against Transnational Organized Crime (Paccto), said: “Sometimes the prosecutor in [Peruvian port] Callao doesn’t know how to contact one in [northern Chilean port city] Arica. All judicial powers, the police and penitentiary institutions must be connected.”

Ivonne Higuero, general secretary of CITES, said many of those responsible for monitoring and prosecuting do not have sufficient specialised knowledge to identify species and the seriousness of their commercialisation.

Roma said: “We can’t fight 21st century crimes with 20th century tools.”

Alberto Gonzáles-Zuñiga, director of Serfor, said they will soon launch a pilot program with the regional government of Tumbes, on the northern tip of Peru, to implement cross-border actions with Ecuador.

“A case like that of the Galapagos turtles should not cross our borders again,” he said. That time, the seizure was carried out on a bus in Piura, six hours from the border.

Scientific research in most Latin American countries on the status of their species is also under-resourced.

“Developing countries still think that environmental problems can be left for later and we already know that overexploitation is the second largest threat to the species,” Higuero said.


‘A problem in every national forest’: tree thieves were behind Washington wildfire

Tree theft, which led to the deadly Maple Fire in Washington, may be costing the US Forest Service up to $100m each year

Hall of Mosses Trail at Olympic National Park in Washington.
 Hall of Mosses Trail at Olympic National Park in Washington. Photograph: Greg Vaughn/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When two men discovered a rare and valuable 90ft-tall bigleaf maple tree in Washington State’s Olympic National Forest last year, they allegedly set about trying to steal it.

But there was a problem – the tree was home to a bee hive. The men reportedly tried to use a wasp killer to get rid of it. When that didn’t work, one allegedly poured gasoline on it, and lit it on fire.

The result, according to a federal indictment unsealed this week, was an August wildfire that raged across the eastern half of the ancient forest, setting 3,300 acres of public land ablaze and costing $4.5m to fight.

Known as the Maple Fire, the smoke from the blaze also served to exacerbate an already bad summer for the region’s air quality. There were fires raging in Canada and Eastern Washington, and as smoke from these blazes struck Seattle, at some points the city reportedly had the worst air quality in the world.

The bigleaf maple’s wood was covered in a distinct pattern, which if harvested is extremely popular for woodworking and potentially worth thousands of dollars. Before the fire, the pair had allegedly spent months illegally harvesting these high-value maple trees and selling the wood, which is used to make furniture and musical instruments.

Wilke was also specifically charged with “setting timber afire” and “using fire in furtherance of a felony” – the latter comes with a mandatory 10-year sentence, according to Seth Wilkinson, the lead prosecutor on the case.

“Timber theft, which involves destruction of a public resource, is in itself a really serious crime in this area,” said Wilkinson. “But this one is magnified many many times because of the consequences here, which involved the destruction of thousands of acres of national forest.”

The upper portions of the winding Elwha River in the Olympic National Park south-west of Port Angeles, Washington.
 The upper portions of the winding Elwha River in the Olympic National Park south-west of Port Angeles, Washington. Photograph: Chris Wilson /The Washington Post/Getty Images

Hundreds of responders from a variety of agencies came together to fight the flames west of Seattle, but the combination of an extremely dry summer and the fact that this is a dense forest with a lot of flammable moss meant that it took at least four days to control.

Wilke pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance this week and is being detained until his trial in December, according to Wilkinson. Williams was arrested a couple weeks ago and is in state custody in California, but is expected to be transferred to Washington for his arraignment.

Wilke’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and court records did not name a federal attorney for Williams.

Tree theft has become a problem for the Olympic forest and other national forests across the country, said Susan Garner, spokesperson for the Olympic National Forest.

“We just don’t have enough law enforcement officers out there, and many of our roads are remote,” she said. “It’s a problem, I think, probably on every national forest.”

Tree theft may be costing the US. Forest Service up to $100m each year, according to a High Country News article published in 2017. Western Washington has been one of the areas most impacted.

The indictment states that Wilke and Williams, along with other unnamed individuals, spent the spring and summer on the hunt across the Pacific Northwest forest for maple trees. When they found a good candidate, the small team allegedly used a chainsaw to fell the tree, and later cut it into smaller pieces.

With the right permits, most national forests allow visitors to harvest trees for personal use. But Wilke and Williams were allegedly selling the blocks to a lumber mill in a small city in western Washington by presenting its owner with permits saying it had been harvested on private land, according to a news release from the US attorney’s office. By the time they found the maple in early August, they had allegedly sold thousands of dollars’ worth of wood to the mill.

After officials responded to the fire, Wilke was soon on their radar when he was found in the area. He was questioned by a Forest Service law enforcement officer, but denied cutting timber, according to the indictment.

More than one year later, the charred area, which had long been a popular place for hiking and sightseeing, remains closed to the public due to lingering safety concerns, such as falling trees, said Garner. And while there are spots where greenery has started to return, there are still many sections that have not shown signs of recovery.

“People need to be aware of their actions and to stop and think about what they’re doing and to treat public lands with the deference that they deserve because they belong to all of us,” said Garner.

Punishment for illegal catching rare animals to be toughened in Russia

14:06 24/09/2019

MOSCOW, September 24 (RAPSI) – A bill to toughen punishment for illegal capture and sale of especially valuable wild animals and marine biological resources belonging to species listed in the Red Book has passed its third and final reading in the State Duma.

Amendments, according to a statement of the lower house of parliament, would be introduced into the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
Under them, such crimes against rare animals would be recognized as medium and grave.

Thus, illegal catching, keeping, purchase, transportation or sale of red-listed animals and marine biological resources would be punishable by community service or imprisonment for up 4 years instead of current 3 years. If the crime is committed with the use of job position or is publicly demonstrated on the Internet or in media, it would be punished with prison terms of up to 6 years instead of current 5 years.

The bill also toughens punishment for illegal buying rare animals online. Currently, it is punished with community service or imprisonment for up to 4 years. Under the draft law, such actions would result in jail terms of up to 5 years. Those purchasing rare species through the Internet with the use of official position would face up to 7 years behind bars instead of currently stipulated 6 years.

Punishment for crimes of this type committed by a group of people in conspiracy and with the use of job position would be also tightened by 1 year, from current maximum 7 to 8 years in custody.

According to the State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, both poachers and their assistants would not have a chance to avoid sanctions as the bill introduces a separate provision on penalties for non-officials using job position to commit the crime, namely employees of national parks and special nature reserves. Previously, responsibility was not set for them.


countering wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s sea ports

Published 19th September 2019

Countering wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s ports

Wildlife trafficking is the illegal cross-border trade in live wildlife, wildlife products or their derivatives, both of fauna and flora. It is one of the most lucrative types of transnational crime along with the illegal trade in drugs, counterfeit goods and human trafficking. This report was prepared in advance of a three-day workshop organised in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania by TRAFFIC, UNDP and UNODC, which brought together key port stakeholder groups to discuss ways to counter wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s sea ports.

Countering wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s ports

Report author(s):
Leanne Little

Publication date:
September 2019

About Wildlife TRAPS

The USAID-funded Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project is an initiative that is designed to secure a transformation in the level of co-operation between an international community of stakeholders who are impacted by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia. The project is designed to increase understanding of the true character and scale of the response required, to set priorities, identify intervention points, and test non-traditional approaches with project partners.

UNDP-GEF Reducing Maritime Trafficking of Wildlife between Africa and Asia project

Implemented by UNDP between 2018 and 2021, this project under the GEF-financed, World Bank led Global Wildlife Program aims to curb maritime wildlife trafficking, targeting key routes and transit points between Africa and Asia. The GEF launched the 7-year Global Wildlife Program (GWP) in June 2015, bringing together funding from the GEF and a wide range of partners, including the Governments of participating countries, GEF Agencies, bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations, the private sector and civil society. Twenty GWP national projects are currently under implementation in 19 partner countries across Africa and Asia, including Tanzania.

Hunting guide who used electronic bird caller pleads guilty

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A central Illinois owner of an outfitter service has pleaded guilty to federal charges that included deploying an electronic bird caller to lure geese into shooting range.

A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield says 58-year-old Rick A. Hamm, of Chillicothe, pleaded guilty Thursday to illegal sale of wildlife.

Hamm and several assistant guides were charged after taking undercover agents posing as hunters on a 2015 hunt in Fulton County.

Prosecutors say Hamm knew electronic callers violated conservation laws. They incorporate recordings of waterfowl to signal contentment at feeding grounds and can lead to excessive kills because they are so effective.

Hamm’s sentencing is Jan. 9. An agreement calls for two years’ probation, a $50,000 fine and $2,500 in restitution. On probation, Hamm will be barred from hunting.

Whipping proposal for wildlife smugglers gets thumbs up

This April 7, shows an Orang Utan baby found in a basket, by Marine police in Muar during an inspection.- NSTP/Adi Safri© Provided by Media Prima This April 7, shows an Orang Utan baby found in a basket, by Marine police in Muar during an inspection.- NSTP/Adi SafriKUALA LUMPUR: Stiffer penalties are needed to deter the smuggling of wildlife in the country.Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail welcomed the recommendation for whipping wildlife crimes, adding that the move was “timely”.

“It is time that the government implemented severe punishment on wildlife poachers and smugglers, as well as on authorities who abuse their power.

“The current fine and imprisonment are too low to curb illegal wildlife activities, and the recommendation for whipping can help as a deterrent,” he told the New Straits Times.

Currently, the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 under Section 38(2), carries a maximum fine of RM500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years for those found guilty of hunting totally protected wildlife without a special permit.

Ahmad also praised the police for mobilising their battalions in the jungles to assist the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

He however said more needed to be done to raise public awareness and the importance of conserving our wildlife.

“The society still lacks knowledge about the importance of saving tigers, for example,” he said.

On Tuesday, Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador said the police would be recommending mandatory whipping for criminals involved in the smuggling of wildlife.

He said the recommendation would be sent to the Legal Affairs Division for tougher penalties in efforts to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking.

The police’s Internal Security and Public Order Department, the air branch and marine police, together with Perhilitan carry out joint patrols in the jungles, by air and sea, under Op Bersepadu Khazanah.

The operations were also boosted by the expertise of the Elite Senoi Praaq Team and the General Operations Force.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

Driver caught smuggling birds into Singapore

Illegal cargo: After checking the bus, Singapore officials found over 800 birds crammed into 15 crates.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

More than 200 birds died following a botched attempt by a Malaysian bus driver to smuggle them into Singapore.

A Malaysia-registered bus driven by the 35-year-old male suspect was stopped for security checks at Singapore’s Woodlands Checkpoint from Johor Baru at about 7am on Saturday.

During checks, officers from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) detected signs of modification around the rear tyres of the bus, said ICA in a joint statement with the National Parks Board (NParks).

“Their suspicions were further aroused when they heard chirping coming from within the bus.

“Upon scrutiny, the officers uncovered 15 containers of 815 birds inside modified compartments above the rear tyres of the bus, ” it said, adding it was the largest seizure of ornamental birds in Singapore in recent years.

Only around 600 of the birds survived. They are currently being cared for under quarantine at NParks’ facility.

The driver, who did not have valid health certificates and import permits, was referred to NParks for investigation.

The haul consisted of 38 white-rumped shamas (murai batu), 10 oriental magpie-robins, 141 oriental white-eyes and 626 munias (scaly-breasted munia and white-headed munia).

The white-rumped shama is a protected species in Malaysia under the Wildlife Conservation Act, while its conservation status in Singapore is classified as rare.

“The health status of animals smuggled into Singapore are unknown and may introduce exotic diseases, such as bird flu, into the country.

“The well-being of the animals will also be affected by poor conditions during the transportation process, ” said the statement.

“The illegal wildlife trade impacts the biodiversity and ecosystems of both source countries and the countries where the wildlife end up in.

“For example, the white-rumped shama, a popular songbird in South-East Asia, is becoming increasingly rare throughout the region because of its popularity in the pet trade.

“As such, NParks strictly regulates the import of animals to prevent the introduction of exotic diseases into Singapore, to safeguard the health and welfare of animals, and to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.”

Florida man found with live alligator during traffic stop, deputies say


Posted: 2:11 PM, Jul 05, 2019
Updated: 2:17 PM, Jul 05, 2019

HARDEE COUNTY, Fla. — Deputies arrested a man Thursday after he was pulled over with drugs and a live alligator in his car during a traffic stop.

According to the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office, deputies searched Anthony Richardson’s car after they pulled over Thursday and found a live alligator in a bag in the front seat.

Richardson told deputies he had the gator in his front seat before they searched the vehicle.

Richardson told deputies he didn’t have an alligator trapping/hunting license but said he came into possession of the gator through a friend. According to deputies, he said he planned to release it into a river.

Deputies called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and released the gator into the Peace River after speaking with a wildlife officer.

Richardson was booked into the Hardee County Jail for multiple drug charges and illegally possessing or capturing an alligator.

This story was originally published by WFTS in Tampa, Florida.