Category Archives: Smuggling

Uphill Battle to Combat Poaching

Photo by Elizabeth Bennett

The article below was published on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s website. You can see it here: http://www.wcs.org/news-and-features-main/wanted-tougher-enforcement-of-wildlife-crime.aspx

I quoted it directly because I felt that trying to summarize it would be pointless.

“Poachers killed almost 230 rhinoceroses in South Africa between January and October of last year. Over the past decade, they’ve killed countless tigers, too, for trading rings that deal in wildlife skins and body parts. Today, fewer than 3,500 of these big cats remain in the wild.

These are just two of many examples WCS  (Wildlife Conservation Society) conservationist Elizabeth Bennett highlights in a recent paper. In the journal Oryx, Bennett addresses how organized crime has become more sophisticated in smuggling wildlife and wildlife products and adept at eluding authorities.

Previously secure wildlife populations are now under threat as poachers and smugglers step up their game. Some new tactics include using hidden compartments in shipping containers, rapidly changing trading routes, and switching to e-commerce, which makes their operating locations difficult to detect.

As advanced smuggling strategies hasten local extinctions of wildlife species, better law enforcement is needed immediately. Bennett suggests various strategies to counter organized wildlife crime activities. These include increasing numbers of highly trained and well-equipped enforcement staff at all points along the trade chain, using more sniffer dogs, conducting DNA tests to search for wildlife products, and employing smart-phone apps with species identification programs.” (Wildlife Conservation Society)

To read about some of the global programs that exist to combat poaching, follow this link:

http://www.wcs.org/conservation-challenges/natural-resource-use/hunting-and-wildlife-trade.aspx

There are also current news stories on the same page. Happy reading, and lets keep up the fight.

Philadelphia’s Ivory Bust

All of this is ivory. (Photo from The New York Times)

I know I’m running the risk of turning this into a ‘Save the Elephants’ blog (see my last post, and the one from April), but I felt I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the ENORMOUS confiscation of ivory merchandise, or actually  “one of the largest U.S. seizures of illegally imported African elephant ivory,” (Wall Street Journal) that occurred in Philadelphia yesterday.

A store owner was arrested for selling ivory that he obtained by paying someone to travel to Africa, procure the ivory, and have local artisans there carve it. “Trade in elephant ivory is forbidden by U.S. law and international convention, so most of the nearly 500 carvings seized from Gordon and his customers were treated to resemble century-old antiques, which are legal for sale,” (Philly.com) Unfortunately, however, this ivory was not old – it was taken from elephants recently killed, namely forest elephants. “Smuggling is considered a significant factor in the decline of the forest elephants, whose ivory is denser and more valued than the tusks from the more numerous savanna elephants in East Africa,” (Philly.com).

Here is an excerpt in one article about this incident that I found particularly important:

“A Fish and Wildlife Service expert on elephant conservation, just back from Africa, said the rows of illegally imported ivory carvings left him traumatized. The number of forest elephants killed for their tusks has jumped in recent years, much of it driven by demand from a newly affluent Asian market, said the expert, Richard Ruggerio, who runs the agency’s conservation programs in Africa. ‘We’re seeing the last battle for the survival of the forest elephant,’ he said. Ruggerio said the herds have been broken up not just by the killing of individual elephants, but also by the damage done to the group structure when a lead elephant has been eliminated. ‘They act like displaced persons from a war,’ he said. James Deutsch, who runs the African conservation program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said forest elephants in Central Africa ‘could go extinct in 10 to 20 years. This is why this seizure is important,’ he said. Deutsch estimated there were about 100,000 forest elephants left in central Africa. Herds are already gone from a large part of their original range. Forest elephants can live to more than 50 years. Recent genetic studies show that the smaller forest elephants are distant cousins of the savanna elephant. The split is estimated to have occurred from two million to seven million years ago,” (Philly.com)

It sickens me to think of how many times I stood outside that store, admiring the African wares inside. I used to live right around the corner. I would walk my dog past there every day and stare in at the African masks on the walls and the clothing and other goods in the window, thinking about my own travels to that continent and how much I loved it. I don’t know if some of the trinkets I ogled in the store were ivory or not. I hope for my conscience’s sake they were not. But at least this counts as one more victory in the war on wildlife. Let’s keep fighting.

Intricately carved tusks that were seized (Photo from http://www.metro.us)

A Fragile and Declining Beauty

Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid

Few people think of orchids when they hear of wildlife poaching, but it is a real and all-too-common aspect of a frightening crime. I first stumbled upon this phenomenon years ago, when the movie Adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage, was released. It was loosely based on the fantastic book by Susan Orlean called The Orchid Thief, which depicts the real-life investigation and subsequent arrest of orchid smuggler John Laroche and a group of Seminole Indians from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve area of Florida. Orlean’s book went into a lot of detail about the orchid trade. Endangered species of orchids are protected under the 1973 established Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), as well as the Endangered Species Act in the US. As usual, when there are restrictions but still demands, a black market will flourish. People venture to the areas of earth where the endangered orchids struggle to maintain their populations, most often Asia, South America, Africa, and regions of the tropical US (Florida & Hawaii), rip them from their natural homes, and ship or transport them to buyers often willing to pay thousands of dollars. Not unlike the purveyors of ivory.

The endangered Ghost Orchid, subject of Orlean's book

An interesting article on orchid smuggling from 2010 can be found here: http://www.msmbb.org.my/apjmbb/html181/181ap.pdf

Commercial trade in orchids not considered in danger of disappearing is legal. So is the sale of nursery-propogated species. But as anyone who has fallen under the spell of these magical plants can tell you, sometimes you can’t help but want what you can’t have – the plants sold in Home Depot don’t have the same appeal as a rare, exotic species to an avid collector. Plus, nursery orchids can be expensive and take long periods of time to grow; smugglers often undercut the prices of legitimate growers.

No plant genus or species could hope to illustrate Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection better than orchids. Defying simple description, these fascinating flowers are beautiful, hideous, freakish, arresting, and mysterious. The Orchidaceae is an enormous family of approximately 730 genera and 25,000 species scattered throughout the globe. It is unknown how many species may have existed at one time but are now extinct, and there currently may well be close to 100,000 more hybrid varieties created by cross-breeding different species (Leroy-Terquem, et al, 9). They range in size from microscopic to enormous plants with flowers stretching to over one foot in diameter. There are some that resemble faces: old men with fu Manchu moustaches, shriveled elderly women, and young children with expressions caught in a permanent state of surprise. Others look like dark, cloaked vampires, fangs curled and poised to bite; there is even a genus aptly named Dracula, which looks remarkably like the frightening mythological persona, complete with that familiar sinister expression.  

Dracula gigas (photo by Mauro Rosim)

Animal-like creatures come to life in orchids, like lions with an orange mane of petals, or monkeys with arms outstretched, or bright swallowtail butterflies. There are orchids that resemble high-heeled shoes and fluffy hats. Some seem to be monsters frozen forever in a silent scream; others look like tiny spiders or creeping ladybugs. A few species are parasitic in nature but most are epiphytic, anchoring themselves to trees or rocks but obtaining their nutrients from other sources. There are orchids that possess smells reminiscent of lemonade, angel-food cake, and expensive French perfume, while there are others whose smells resemble a garbage heap or in the worst cases, rotting flesh. Did you know that vanilla comes from an orchid?

Vanilla orchid (photo by orchidsflowers.net)

I’ve had a love affair with orchids for many years, and have had sporadic success with different varieties. But although I admire the rare and exotic, I do so from the pages of books or online. Or purchase from legitimate growers. I’ve often bought the sad-looking Home Depot orchids because I feel sorry for them and want to give them a better home, and guess what? They grew just fine. Please don’t support the exotic pet or plant trade. Leave them where they are supposed to be so that they don’t disappear forever.

Paphiopedilum from my own collection 🙂