China targets illegal wildlife trade

Conservationists often accuse China of not doing sufficient in the fight against illegal wildlife trade, but the country seems to step up its efforts. China has recently not only established an inter-agency CITES group – and is rewarded by CITES for its operations this year- , the Chinese are also cooperating with TRAFFIC to train hundreds of police.

More than 350 border police attended training sessions in Guangxi Province, China, to increase their awareness about illegal wildlife trade and enhance their capacity to detect wildlife smuggling in the region. They included 200 police officers from 29 border checkpoints and police stations in Chongzuo who followed the proceedings through a live closed circuit television broadcast.

The province, officially known as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in the far south of China is an area rich in biodiversity. However, with mountainous terrain and a long border with neighbouring Viet Nam, it is an important gateway for cross-border smuggling. With officers stationed at all checkpoints and police stations in the region, the Corps is key to enforcement efforts against wildlife smuggling.

Last year, for example, a routine inspection of a truck at a highway toll station in Pingxiang close to the border with Viet Nam, found 707 elephant tusks, 32 ivory bracelets and 1 rhino horn concealed in wooden boxes. The haul was one of the largest illegal ivory seizures ever made.

“We urge armed border policemen to prioritize scrutiny for wildlife trafficking during their daily patrols and to strive to keep this gateway shut,” said Wan Ziming, director of the Enforcement & Training Division in China’s CITES MA .

The meeting was part of recent intense efforts by the government in Guangxi to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade, which included collaborative enforcement actions between May and November 2011. Roughly half as many seizures were made in this period compared to the total number made in Guangxi between 2006 and 2010. They included 134 wildlife criminal cases filed, 57 suspects arrested, 288 administration cases filed and seizures from 272 individuals.

This resulted in the confiscation of around 30,000 protected wild animals, including more than 1,500 national first-class protected animals: monitor lizards, pythons, crocodiles and others; over 27,200 national second-class protected animals: pangolin, Black Bear and others; 41 elephant tusks plus 1,300 ivory products, and one rhino horn.

Dr Jianbin Shi, Head of TRAFFIC’s programme in China: “It is a significant step at provincial level to increase China’s engagement on links to its southern neighbours such as Viet Nam, and to strengthening co-operation with the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network. TRAFFIC is delighted to see this display of real commitment and resources by relevant authorities in China towards tackling illegal wildlife trade. It is a serious crime that needs to be addressed with this kind of highly organized law enforcement response.”

The Guangxi meeting took place against a backdrop of enhanced enforcement efforts against wildlife trafficking more generally in the country:  the State Forestry Administration released details of a huge nationwide clampdown. During this operation, around 100,000 police officers were sent to inspect 5,962 markets.

It is this action by the  State Forestry Administration and an operation of the Chinese  Customs Authorities that has the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mr John E. Scanlon, award a Certificate of Commendation to the National Inter-Agency CITES Enforcement Collaboration Group (NICECG) of China.

During the Forest Police Operation, organized by the State Forestry Administration, more than 700 cases of illegal wildlife trade were uncovered; 7,155 illegal wildlife stalls and shops as well as 628 illegal online wildlife shops were shut down; 520 websites believed to offer for sale illegal wildlife were closely monitored; enforcement action was taken against 1,031 wildlife dealers involved in illegal activities; 13 wildlife-related criminal networks were dismantled and approximately 130,000 wild animals; 2,000 wildlife products and 147 wild animal skins were conficated.

At the Customs Authorities Operation, organized by the General Administration of Customs, 13 suspects were arrested; 1,366.3 kg of ivory, 337,400 kg of red sandal wood; and approximately 30,000 kg of yew timber and 876 horns of saiga antelope were seized.

These two major operations were carried out under the auspices of NICECG, which was established in December 2011 in order to facilitate the collection and exchange of intelligence, enhance capacity building, and coordinate joint enforcement activities.

The CITES Secretary-General, Mr John E Scanlon, presented the Certficate of Commendation to the Chair of NICECG and Vice Minister of the State Forestry Administration, Ms Yin Hong. Mr Scanlon declared: “The sheer scale, extent of coordination, and level of success of these intelligence-driven operations exemplify the coordinated enforcement effort that is required at the national and sub-national levels to combat wildlife crime successfully. We commend the Chinese Government for this excellent initiative.”

Ms Yin Hong: “The demand for wild animals and plants for traditional Chinese medicine and food is stimulating illegal trade and overexploitation of wildlife.”

In the traditional Chinese medicine sector, often materials from animals are being used. The horn of the African Rhino for example, is being believed to cure all kinds of illnesses under which cancer. Scientific prove of the horn being worthless in curing disease untill now has no effect on the growing demand in Asia. Because of the increasing market, in recent years poaching in Africa has risen considerably.  At the current pace the illegal hunting is driving the wild rhino to extinction.

This article is based on information by CITES and TRAFFIC.

Photo’s by courtesy of TRAFFIC, Xu Ling and CITES

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