Isabel’s way to help prevent wildlife smuggling
Recently I was in Fiji. But I wasn’t hanging out by the pool or snorkeling among the colourful soft corals. Instead, I was finding ways to train border officials to prevent wildlife smuggling.
So in the restricted access areas of Nadi international airport, I observed the Fijian border agencies as they scanned and checked baggage and passengers for illegal wildlife!
The airport exercise was just part of a broader training program that the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been doing in partnership with the New Zealand government over a number of years. The aim – to alert Pacific Island countries to the danger posed to their animals, plants and local economies by wildlife smuggling and to build their capacity stop it.
Oceania is blessed with amazing biodiversity, but it’s also challenged by its geography – hundreds of small islands separated by vast tracts of sea. It’s a hard place to police effectively.
My role in Fiji was an exciting one – while our New Zealand partners were training a group of around 30 Fijian law enforcement officers a range of techniques from species identification to wildlife smuggling techniques - I was responsible for training a smaller group of outstanding officers from around the Pacific to become trainers themselves.
This ‘train the trainer’ course is one we’re just developing for wildlife crime prevention and our hope is that the new trainers will now share the message about illegal wildlife trade and the importance of stopping it throughout their own law enforcement agencies.
The international convention that regulates trade in endangered species is called CITES and it covers 34,000 species (although 25,000 of these are orchids!) including mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, timber and most recently some shark species.The most endangered species are banned from trade, others are simply regulated.
Some of these species are highly prized by unscrupulous collectors who are willing to break the law to complete their collections and pay huge prices for rare specimens. Some butterflies from our region can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars in Asia or Europe.
Sometimes CITES species are traded illegally by ordinary travelers who simply don’t know the rules – many Asian traditional medicines and other herbal preparations may contain endangered species derivatives and these will be confiscated if found by Customs officers.
The officers I worked with last week were from Cook Islands, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, and they’re now back at work, some of them already scheduling their first training sessions with colleagues.
As well as their new training skills they are determined to build a network for information sharing and cooperation to combat wildlife crime in the region. I believe this approach is a crucial step towards securing their borders from smuggling and eventually making our region free from Wildlife Crime.