How a simple role-playing exercise led to a wildlife trade confiscation

Participants role play as customs officials and passengers at a fictitious airport, trying to uncover wildlife trade contraband such as this skin.During a training held in Entebbe, Uganda, facilitators and participants took part in a practical exercise where participants role-played as either a customs officer or a passenger at the arrivals section of a fictitious airport.

They searched each other and their hand luggage for any wildlife or plant materials that are contraband.

Though the role play at every training workshop is different, the results are nearly always the same with fictitious passengers making it past customs with illegal materials.

In most cases, it is practically impossible for the customs officers to search all the passengers thoroughly, especially when multiple flights arrive, hundreds of passengers disembark and many rush to connecting flights to other destinations.

This is the reality.

A training held in Entebbe, Uganda was one of more than 84 trainings in 38 countries held since 2006 to build the capacity of law enforcement and CITES management authorities’ personnel to curb wildlife trafficking.

 It is not all doom and gloom though.

There have been increased reports of enforcement success, which indicates that our Prevention of Wildlife Trafficking (PWT) trainings are working.

Uganda Customs reported their first detection of a CITES specimen after our training concluded. Coincidentally one of the workshop trainers was at the airport leaving Entebbe when the customs official encountered suspicious coral.

The trainer gave the following account:

Having just gotten through security at the airport I heard someone calling my name. I then recognised the person as one of the participants from the training, and after an enthusiastic welcome, he showed me a picture of some coral.

He said someone had bought it in a shop and was trying to take it out of the country. I explained the permit requirements, and he said he had informed the passenger of the requirements but the passenger would not believe him. 

He asked me to speak to the offender and explain to him the requirements, which I duly did. The customs official, now joined by his colleague, then went on to confiscate the coral.

Since 2006, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has conducted more than 84 trainings in 38 countries to increase the capacity, expertise and overall personnel of law enforcement and CITES management authority teams in an effort to curb wildlife trafficking.

The more than 2,800 participants have been trained on how to use the CITES appendices to identify wildlife and plant species that are afforded different levels of protection from over-exploitation. The aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.


Learn more about our efforts to fight wildlife trafficking.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy