A summit in Bangkok has revealed that front-line transport workers have very little awareness of the methods used by the criminal networks who ship illegal wildlife products. Customs officials and wildlife trade experts show that the educating of everyone from freight forwarders to handlers of air, land and ship cargoes could make a big difference in the fight.
The summit was the first of its kind and included transport operators along with custom officials and experts in the illegal wildlife trade.
Mark Palmer, one of the experts in compliance requirements and international transport who was present said there was genuine shock from many in the transport industry at the magnitude of the trade. They were also unaware of the methods used to disguise the illegal goods being transported.
One example is rhino horn, which is ground down to a powder and then it virtually impossible to distinguish from a box of grey chalk by a visual check.
Around 35,000 elephants are killed every year just for their tusks, mostly in Africa, wildlife organisations say. The South African government had a record number of rhinos poached last year at 1,215. There are also only around 3,000 tigers left around the world now, about 5% of what the population was a century ago.
Despite international efforts to stop the trafficking, the criminals involved are constantly adopting new tactics to transport their goods – an industry now said to be worth $23bn annually, according to the UN Environment Programme.
And a lot of these traffickers are utilising the lack of awareness in freight handlers, said Tom Milliken, an expert in elephant and rhino trafficking with Traffic, the international wildlife trade monitoring network.
At the meeting, Mr Milliken produced a case study that showed one major international courier company had suddenly discovered that its Europe depot had been transporting ivory bangles from Nigeria to China in 2011.
Within two weeks, three more seizures were made and this resulted in a red flag for all the major international courier companies who began screening the parcels at source.
Evidence is showing now that the ivory processing is taking place by Asian carvers based in Africa and that Chinese traffickers in particular are working straight from Africa. This offers new challenges for transport operators as identifying raw elephant tusks is easier than identifying a bangle that could easily be made of resin rather than ivory.
Eyes and ears
Experts say that such information needs to be tailored for the transport industry to allow them to make a better assessment of the risk involved. These freight handlers could be the useful eyes and ears for those combating the trade because they are the people handling the consignments.
And with customs and security authorities at ports being overwhelmed with issues such as security, drugs and human trafficking, by getting the transport industry involved could help fill a gap.
com/transport-workers-unaware- illegal-wildlife-trade-tricks/ 5449/angela-t/