Report to Congress on
Strategic Review of Task Force
Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016
PL 114-231, Sec. 301(d)
2020 Strategic Review
Read the 2020 END Wildlife Trafficking Report.
The Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act (P.L. 114-231; 16 U.S.C. §§ 7601-7644) (the “END Act”) directs the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking (“Task Force”) to submit an annual strategic review and assessment of its work that includes, among other things, a review and assessment of its implementation of the Act; a description of Task Force member agency priorities and objectives; an accounting of U.S. funding for combating wildlife trafficking (CWT); and recommendations for improving U.S. and international efforts to prevent wildlife trafficking in the future.
Wildlife trafficking remains a serious transnational crime that threatens security, economic prosperity, the rule of law, long-standing conservation efforts, and human health. President Trump, in Executive Order 13773 (February 9, 2017), called for a comprehensive and decisive approach to dismantle organized crime syndicates and specifically recognized the connection between wildlife trafficking and transnational organized criminal networks.
The Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Attorney General, brings together 17 Federal departments and agencies to implement the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (the “National Strategy”). The U.S. government’s (USG) three-pronged approach to CWT – strengthening law enforcement, reducing demand, and building international cooperation – makes illegal wildlife trade riskier and less profitable for criminals.
In fiscal year (FY) 2019, the USG planned to spend approximately $114 million to combat wildlife trafficking worldwide. This funding has been directed at the local, bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels.
The Task Force’s work on CWT is making a difference on the ground – at home and worldwide. Through the Task Force, efforts and activities are better coordinated across the USG: efficiencies are being identified and exploited, redundancies eliminated, and resources used more strategically; international outreach continues to expand; and improved intelligence identified new areas of work. Working in partnership with the private sector, local communities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the United States leads the way globally by securing agreements from governments and commitments from stakeholders to take action.
Coordination and communication among Task Force agencies occur at all levels. Weekly calls with the Department of State (DOS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ensure communication lines are always open and issues can be addressed quickly. Monthly working group sessions, particularly on programs, ensure we are using U.S. resources strategically and effectively, avoiding duplication of effort, and identifying both gaps and coordination opportunities in U.S. government efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. Quarterly meetings of the Task Force agencies at the working level allow us to update progress, share lessons learned, and develop new concerted lines of effort. The Task Force meets at the principal level annually, providing policy guidance and direction. These processes are augmented by meetings with individual nongovernmental and private-sector partners, as well as recurring meetings with our international partners at the bilateral and multilateral level. This encourages and fosters new and expanding partnerships between and among agencies, effectively leveraging our whole-of-government approach.
Coordination among U.S. agencies in the field continues to deepen and expand. U.S. embassies and USAID missions with substantial programs to address wildlife crime established CWT working groups involving resident federal agencies concerned with conservation, law enforcement, security, defense, and other relevant areas. In collaboration with DOS, USFWS Office of Law Enforcement (USFWS/OLE) has law enforcement attachés posted to U.S. embassies in Botswana, Brazil, China, Gabon, Mexico, Peru, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Kenya, and the United Kingdom. Similarly, DOJ worked with DOS to place a Resident Legal Advisor (RLA) in 2018 at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos, specifically dedicated to bolstering the capacity of governments in Southeast Asia to investigate and prosecute wildlife trafficking crimes. The RLA continued their important work in 2019. In addition, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has 80 foreign offices in 53 countries that facilitate investigations of transnational criminal organizations (including those involved in wildlife trafficking); support U.S.-sponsored training and capacity-building initiatives; and assist foreign law enforcement investigations into wildlife trafficking.
The guiding priorities and objectives of the Task Force agencies derive from the National Strategy, as expressly recognized by the END Act, and from the END Act itself. Those priorities and objectives are subject to further refinement in light of continuing progress and lessons learned from our ongoing efforts, as well as the country-specific assessments and strategic reviews required by section 301 of the END Act. In the past year, Task Force agencies worked with U.S. embassies and host governments in Focus Countries (major source, transit, and/or destination countries for trafficked wildlife) to assess the threats posed by wildlife trafficking and the capacity of the respective host governments to address those threats. Agencies also worked with U.S. embassies, in conjunction with relevant ministries and NGOs in Focus Countries, to prepare strategic plans to address wildlife trafficking in those countries. We developed successful partnerships to combat wildlife trafficking with many in the international community, and the Task Force looks forward to productive engagement with stakeholders in the identified Focus Countries going forward.
Looking ahead, the Administration intends to prioritize disrupting and eliminating transnational criminal networks, including disrupting the financial resources generated by wildlife trafficking that flow to those criminal entities. In addition, we are redoubling efforts to develop and incorporate innovative technologies to combat wildlife trafficking. We are scaling up our collaboration with the private sector across the board, including by addressing online illegal trade and the role of the transport sector. We are also identifying and leveraging connections between other conservation crimes such as illegal logging and associated trade (ILAT); crimes associated with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; illegal mercury use and trafficking associated with artisanal and small‑scale gold mining; and the illegal extraction and trade in other minerals including precious metals and gemstones.
There is still much work to do. We need to continue supporting the involvement of the Intelligence Community (IC) in our countertrafficking efforts. This is especially important given that wildlife trafficking is an integral component of the larger transnational organized crime threat and must be countered at that level. IC involvement could accelerate and scale tailoring of a knowledge management framework by intelligence agencies for enhanced Task Force information sharing and law enforcement collaboration within the United States and with partner countries. We remain mindful of the ongoing need to evaluate the effectiveness of the steps we are taking to combat wildlife trafficking, both at the project level and more broadly, and to develop, as and where practicable and useful, metrics to guide that process. The Task Force established indicators, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which will help assess our progress around the world. The Task Force is working with U.S. Posts in the Focus Countries designated by the END Act to incorporate these indicators into country strategies, establish baselines, and set targets.
During 2019, posts in the 26 original Focus Countries submitted data on relevant indicators monitored by the Task Force, as recommended by the GAO, to assess USG progress around the world. Almost every post reported supporting host countries’ wildlife law enforcement efforts with training or other resources in 2019. Across all Focus Countries, more than 13,000 individuals were trained to improve capacity to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least 20 percent of these individuals being women. In Kenya alone, more than 3,000 individuals were trained, the most of any Focus Country. Small investments in training can have an outsized impact, as in China, where one partner trained 60 trainers who went on to train an estimated 200,000 shipping and package delivery employees in detecting and responding to shipments of illegal wildlife products. More than half of Posts also reported seizures of wildlife or wildlife products, with an estimated value in U.S. dollars of at least $100 million, following USG assistance. There were about 1,150 arrests and 250 prosecutions reported across Focus Countries. The largest fines handed out were reported in China at more than $1.1 million; across all other Focus Countries, approximately $100,000 in fines were reported. Seized products included high volumes of pangolin scales, elephant tusks, and rhino horn. Additionally there were seizures across a wide range of species throughout the regions, including live Asian palm civets and clouded leopard skins in Burma; otters, seahorses, and grey herons in China; monitor lizards in Cambodia, India, and Laos; bear parts in Indonesia, Laos, and Malaysia; tortoises in Laos, Madagascar, and Malaysia; and lion parts in Tanzania and Vietnam.
In 2019, the Task Force obtained data on at least one of three demand reduction indicators for 11 of the 26 Focus Countries. In total, USG demand reduction efforts for illegal wildlife products reached an estimated 1.3 billion people in 11 Focus Countries, including public awareness efforts such as a campaign on China’s ivory ban which reached hundreds of millions of people across 24 cities, and behavior change campaigns which reached 55 million people in China, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. These U.S. government-supported behavior-change campaigns and communication initiatives targeted illicit products and species ranging from elephant ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin products to species less covered in the media such as songbirds and hornbills. A broad range of creative approaches were employed to raise awareness and reduce demand. Examples included billboards, fliers and speeches targeting tourists at airports, and extensive social media campaigns and Google ads to decrease demand for specific wildlife products such as tiger amulets and ivory souvenirs. These efforts are changing attitudes. For instance, in China, more than 540,000 users committed to reject tiger products and become “Tiger Protectors” by sharing campaign messages with their friends. In Vietnam, following formal exchanges with hundreds of computer/information technology and tourism employees, more than 50 percent signed an online pledge not to trade, use or donate products from wildlife. In Laos, 1,200 people committed to reject the purchase of all wildlife meat and products following discussions on new wildlife legislation.
All Focus Countries are parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, many face challenges in implementing their CITES obligations. According to assessments by USG experts, most (16 of 26) demonstrated poor implementation of CITES overall in 2019. According to reports by the CITES National Legislation Project, many Focus Countries (12 of 26) have insufficient national legislation to implement CITES. In addition, eight Focus Countries are currently subject to trade suspensions under CITES. Trade suspensions can be recommended for commercial trade in certain CITES-regulated specimens or for all CITES-regulated trade and are typically levied as a result of ongoing lack of compliance with CITES. Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Laos, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Togo are presently subject to trade suspensions for specific taxa. Additionally, several focus countries (including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tanzania, and Togo) are thought to illegally launder animals from the wild by labeling them “captive-bred,” a common tactic in the illegal wildlife trade. USG experts reported that Focus Countries frequently fail to fully implement CITES for reasons including: insufficient political will (even when capacity is available, as in China and the United Arab Emirates); a lack of capacity and resources (even when the political will is strong, such as in Kenya); or a lack of both (as with Cambodia and Laos).
Finally, 20 of 26 Focus Country Posts reported on host nation interagency or intergovernmental cooperation to CWT in their countries in 2019. Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Vietnam were reported to have high levels of interagency cooperation, though these assessments were not unanimous among all USG personnel in Kenya, Tanzania, and Vietnam. In general, interagency cooperation was deemed to be either low (nine Focus Countries) or medium (six Focus Countries), and with mixed assessments in Laos, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Vietnam. Ratings for intergovernmental cooperation were lower, in general, than those for interagency cooperation, with only two USG personnel rating it as “high” in Kenya and Madagascar, and USG personnel in Missions in 15 of 20 Focus Countries rating the efficacy of this cooperation as “low.”
Task Force agencies employ domestic laws and regulations to combat wildlife trafficking, including prosecuting wildlife traffickers for crimes that cross international boundaries and are tied to transnational criminal organizations. Prosecution of traffickers in U.S. courts is one of the most impactful enforcement activities, accomplished through coordination across multiple Task Force agencies. Domestic prosecution of wildlife trafficking requires close collaboration, as the prosecutors in DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s (ENRD) Environmental Crimes Section work closely with U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country and ENRD’s partner agencies to prosecute wildlife trafficking cases in federal courts. These prosecutions often require international cooperation among enforcement agencies to bring international traffickers to justice. In such cases, DOJ routinely seeks punishments that include significant periods of incarceration, fines, and restitution or community service to help mitigate harm caused by the offense, forfeiture of the wildlife and instrumentalities used to commit the offense, and disgorgement of the proceeds of illegal trafficking. During 2019, significant prosecutions included the extradition of an Irish national, Richard Sheridan, from the United Kingdom for his involvement in trafficking a libation cup made from rhinoceros horn with the sentence of 14 months in prison. DOJ also pursued charges against five men for conspiring to smuggle exotic birds protected under CITES – including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and corellas – from the Port of New Orleans to Taiwan, obtaining guilty pleas from all five. In another case, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution for poaching thousands of diamondback terrapins – protected under state and federal law and by CITES – and illegally selling and shipping them under false labels. DOJ also charged a New Hampshire resident with illegally importing live water monitor lizards protected under CITES from the Philippines; in pleading guilty, the man admitted knowing that the lizards were taken in violation of Philippine law and imported in violation of federal law. DOJ also announced charges against a Florida couple for smuggling wildlife from Indonesia to the United States and reselling it in the United States. Between 2011 and 2017, the couple made approximately 4,600 online sales of CITES-protected wildlife worth more than $200,000. The wildlife articles seized from the couple’s home included Javan spitting cobra, a reticulated python, monitor lizard products, and a babirusa skull.
DOJ supports partner countries in conducting enforcement operations outside U.S. borders. DOJ’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial, Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) placed an RLA in Laos, an END Act Country of Concern, in 2018. The RLA, a prosecutor from ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section, is the first-ever RLA specifically dedicated to addressing wildlife trafficking issues and will remain in Laos through June 2021. The RLA has worked with law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and judges throughout the region to pursue and punish wildlife criminals and to develop a deeper understanding of the deleterious effects that wildlife crime has on countries due to its connections to transnational criminal organizations. Areas of focus included better handling of wildlife evidence, effective use of digital and financial evidence to identify criminal networks, and raising awareness of appropriate sentences. DOJ also worked with several Southeast Asian countries, with a focus on Laos, to ensure countries have adequate laws to deter wildlife crimes.
DOJ participates in international partnerships and networks that promote effective prosecution of transnational environmental crimes, such as the International Criminal Police Organization’s (INTERPOL) environmental crimes working groups, the 2018 London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Experts Group on ILAT, and a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) working group established to develop and provide prosecutorial and legislative guidance for combating wildlife crime. In addition, DOJ provides support for U.S. efforts to enhance enforcement of wildlife crimes through the CITES framework, such as by supporting CITES capacity-building efforts and by advocating for use of CITES compliance measures to ensure that CITES parties establish effective domestic enforcement regimes. DOJ attorneys also participate in capacity building efforts focused on ensuring that prosecutors in our partner countries have the necessary training and skills to prosecute the perpetrators of wildlife crime and bring them to justice. Such efforts include partnering with USFWS/OLE to develop and administer an Executive Policy and Development Symposium on Transnational Organized Crime – Wildlife Trafficking, which focuses on developing comprehensive, country-wide responses to wildlife trafficking, as well as participating in other prosecutorial training programs.
DOS implements CWT programs to help partner nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America improve law enforcement, build their investigative, prosecutorial, and interdiction capacities, and foster cooperation within and across governments. Programs are strategically targeted to respond to local characteristics and ensure they are showing demonstrable results.
DOS’ Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) funds the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to scale up enforcement capacity and cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking networks in Africa and South Asia. Through these grants, WCS works to enhance the capacity of law enforcement by strengthening legislative frameworks and improving investigations. In DRC, WCS launched the first phase of a new, three-year intensive training and mentoring program for all the rangers of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve also established an elite ranger unit for rapid reaction operations against poaching, trafficking, and gold mining. The new unit helped double the number of arrests for illegal activities in the park compared to 2018. In India, WCS’ training on wildlife crime investigations has been well received. The Indian government approached WCS to discuss expanding the program to other Indian states outside the current scope of work. For example, from just one of its workshops, WCS found that six officers trained (11 percent) were involved in booking cases on wildlife crime, and two of those officers booked their first wildlife crime case following the workshop. As a result of the training, seven people were arrested in six cases.
In Vietnam, INL supported the NGO Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV), which produced a Public Service Announcement (PSA) film aimed at deterring wildlife trafficking. The film highlighted the surge in prosecutions of wildlife crime under the new Penal Code, conveyed the strict penalties that apply, and urged the public to report wildlife traffickers. The PSA was released in December 2019 and aired on 20 television channels in Vietnam. ENV’s advocacy, intervention, and expertise in the application of laws protecting wildlife in Vietnam helped to underscore the serious impact of wildlife crime. For cases prosecuted during 2019 in Vietnam, the average prison sentence for wildlife crime was approximately 4.83 years, in contrast with an average of 1.2 years in 2017 prior to implementation of Vietnam’s new penal code. ENV previously created a Wildlife Crime Hotline, which is still in operation. The Hotline provides trained and certified case officers, who receive wildlife crime case tips and then contact the appropriate authorities to address the violations and track each case through to its conclusion. Outcomes are documented in ENV’s Wildlife Crime Incident Tracking Database. In 2019, a total of 1,777 cases were logged on the ENV Incident Tracking System. The overall case success rate, ranging from arrests and prosecutions or administrative penalties to voluntary compliance following warnings issued by authorities, was 52.5 percent (933 cases).
To further strengthen enforcement globally, INL expanded engagement to CWT in Latin America. The NGO Freeland is working with Brazil’s government to bolster legislation that addresses wildlife trafficking, develop and institutionalize a comprehensive CWT curriculum tailored to Brazil, and help the country engage in regional and transcontinental cooperation and information exchange. Freeland held a Legislation Meeting in 2019 and produced training material that is already being used by the Federal Police Academy for training new Federal Police Commissioners. This training material was also published on the website of the Association of Brazilian Federal Judges as a model for cases and is being applied by the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo Environmental Divisions of the Civil State Police.
INL also continues to partner with USFWS/OLE globally. In partnership with USFWS/OLE, INL is establishing the first wildlife trafficking vetted units (WTVU) in Peru and Gabon. In Gabon, this elite group of conservation law enforcement officers has been carefully selected by USFWS/OLE to undergo extensive training and mentorship that will assist the government of Gabon to successfully investigate networks and high-level actors engaged in wildlife trafficking. In addition to this program, the USFS is starting a new program that will work with environmental prosecutors starting this year and as such, these programs have the potential to make a great impact on wildlife trafficking in Central Africa. In Vietnam, USFWS/OLE conducted four iterations of a training course that included hands-on practice in identifying elephant ivory and rhino horn. Only a few days after the first courses, participating officers used the skills and kits provided through the training to positively identify seized ivory and rhino horn. In the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, where porous borders make the region vulnerable to transnational crime, including trafficking in illicit goods, INL supported the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to work with the provincial authorities of Thailand, Laos, and Burma to develop provincial-level wildlife task forces in the border regions. Due to the results, Thailand is using its own resources to establish similar task forces in its other border regions.
In 2019, the USFWS/OLE continued to expand its Attaché program to include: two additional Attachés to be stationed in Hanoi, Vietnam and Nairobi, Kenya; one Liaison to be stationed at the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) in Germany; a Senior Program Analyst and Senior Program Consultant stationed at Headquarters; three Foreign Service National Investigators stationed in Mexico, Peru, and Thailand; as well as two Technical Advisors stationed in Thailand and Gabon. Two Advisors working alongside the USFWS/OLE Attachés oversee the WTVU in Gabon and one being formed in Peru.
A USFWS/OLE-led law enforcement operation, in coordination with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – Uganda Assist – assisted with the arrest of four main targets located throughout East and West Africa. The targets had been participating in a conspiracy to traffic rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory valued at more than $7 million. They were additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 10 kilograms of heroin.
A multi-country collaboration continued into 2019 for Operation Eel-Licit, focusing on the global illegal trade in European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a species protected under Appendix II of CITES. Since the time of the initial operation, several CITES Parties including (but not limited to) the Republic of South Korea, Japan, Australia, Russian Federation, and Vietnam have been identified as significant importers or transit points in the global eel meat trade. USFWS/OLE Beijing made contact with Japan Customs, Japan Ministry of Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Attaché in Beijing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Attaché in Tokyo, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Tokyo office regarding illegal antibiotics issues that surfaced during the operation.
Training and capacity-building efforts done in partnership with INL continued throughout the world with numerous training missions being conducted on topics ranging from basic wildlife trafficking investigations to sophisticated cyber and internet-based investigations and wildlife crime scene processing. USFWS/OLE continues to build international partnerships in Brazil through participation with Policía Federal and Brazil’s lead environmental agency IBAMA in Belo Horizonte as part of a transnational investigation involving the smuggling of rare and endemic fish protected under Brazil’s endangered species law, Plano de Ação Nacional para a Conservação dos Peixes Rivulideos Ameaçados de Extinção e Lei de Crimes Ambientais.
Operation Common Denominator was a multi-jurisdictional investigation led by USFWS/OLE in coordination with Environment Canada, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Royal Malaysian Police, DOJ Environmental Crimes Section, and DOJ Office of International Affairs. Operation Common Denominator focused on the illegal collection, interstate sale, and smuggling of CITES-protected North American turtles, namely diamondback terrapins, spotted turtles, wood turtles, and box turtles. During the investigation, a highly organized network of illicit turtle suppliers, middlemen, smugglers, and syndicate managers were identified. Targets were indicted on six felony counts including smuggling, and trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378), and false labeling.
USFWS/OLE also supported an International Visitors Program that brought Thai officials to Washington, DC for a meeting with USFWS/OLE, the USFWS International Affairs Program, and INL, along with a tour of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Thai officials included two senior enforcement officers from the Department of National Parks, Division of Wild Fauna and Flora Enforcement, and a wildlife prosecutor from the Thai Attorney General’s Chamber. Based on the success of this visit, FWS/OLE intends to expand this program to include other international counterparts.
The USFWS International Affairs program also provides financial assistance to combat wildlife trafficking around the world. Exemplifying this work, USFWS works in partnership with Fauna and Flora International to conserve critically endangered sturgeon fish in Central Asia. While sturgeon was once widespread across Europe, today many of these fish species are restricted to two rivers in the country of Georgia, largely due to poaching and illegal trade for meat and caviar. In 2017-2019, USFWS International Affairs funded a project to protect sturgeon with a variety of strategies. The project resulted in the identification of a trade route for sturgeon meat and the training of conservation practitioners, local fishers, and inspectors on fish conservation and illegal activities. These efforts have bolstered the capacity of Rioni River fishing communities to protect sturgeon. Recently, Fauna and Flora International and its community partners rediscovered critically endangered Ship Sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris) in Georgia, which were previously suspected to have disappeared from the region.
NOAA Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) supports counter wildlife trafficking enforcement efforts through Joint Enforcement Agreements under the authority of the Cooperative Enforcement Program (CEP). Deputized through the CEP to enforce federal law, state and territorial law, enforcement partners conduct inspections onboard vessels and at ports of entry to interdict illegal wildlife and IUU fishing products.
NOAA OLE co-hosted a law enforcement training workshop on June 18-20, 2019, that focused on shark fin identification and the transnational illegal trade in shark fins. The workshop, which was attended by the USFWS/OLE, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and USDA, culminated in a law enforcement operation focused on the illegal sale of shark fins at seafood markets in the greater Seattle, Washington area. Additionally, NOAA OLE continued efforts from 2018 targeting the illegal sale and trafficking of sperm whale teeth and marine mammal parts in Hawaii. This resulted in a newly discovered marine mammal ivory/bone smuggling scheme, which resulted in two felony convictions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Hawaii.
An investigation (Liliani Muti et al.) involving conspiratorial felonious conduct resulted in the seizure and subsequent abandonment of nearly $350,000 of marine mammal bone and ivory (the largest such seizure in Hawaii State history). Liliani and James Muti pleaded guilty at the end of 2018 to a collective four felony counts before a U.S. District Magistrate Judge. Each pleaded guilty to one felony Conspiracy to Smuggle count and one felony Lacey Act Wildlife Trafficking count. They were sentenced to a $20,000 fine, five years’ probation and three (3) months of home incarceration. In 2019, NOAA OLE identified new illegal wildlife shipments, which brought new evidence against Liliani Muti (L. Muti). In March 2019, L. Muti was brought before the U.S. District Court and she admitted that she had not met the terms and conditions of her probation. Specifically, L. Muti failed to obtain an Import/Export License. She was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, and must pay the remainder of the original $20,000 fine.
Further, a second criminal case, which was placed on hold during previous Operation Ishmael operational activities, was completed in 2019. Norman Sponholz et al. involves the trafficking of contemporary endangered species whale teeth and walrus tusks. Sponholz confessed to buying prohibited marine mammal ivory from an Undercover (UC) Agent on three occasions and selling prohibited items to a UC Agent on one occasion. In July 2019, Sponholz was sentenced to three years’ probation.
In May 2019, Cesar Daleo was sentenced in San Diego federal court for conspiring with others to smuggle dried sea cucumber into the United States from Mexico. The defendant organized couriers to conceal and transport bags of dried sea cucumber (Isostichopus fuscus) (a CITES Appendix III-listed species) into the United States from Mexico on approximately 80 occasions. It is estimated the courier transported approximately 1600 kg of dried sea cucumber worth more than $250,000. He was sentenced to 24 months in jail and ordered to pay $5,400 restitution to the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection in Mexico (PROFEPA in Spanish).
In March 2019, Kin Chien Sieto and Xue Ling Sieto each pled guilty to smuggling commercial quantities of sea cucumber (Isostichopus fuscus) into the United States in early 2018. They were each ordered to pay $1500 restitution to PROFEPA and were put on five years’ probation. Other relevant cases in 2019 are as follows: NOAA OLE seized dried abalone from an import/export business, which also resulted in the payment of a $3000 civil penalty; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identified and turned over two imported seal skins to NOAA OLE after the product was abandoned by its owners; NOAA OLE seized 1-2 pounds of whale meat by an international traveler; NOAA OLE seized whale bone bracelet from an international traveler; criminal prosecution was conducted for the illegal take of a green seas turtle, with one year of supervised probation and a $500 fine issued to each of two defendants.
ICE HSI and CBP are the only U.S. entities which can implement and utilize, bilateral Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements (CMAAs) which permit information sharing related to offenses administered and enforced by “customs administrations.” ICE HSI uses existing CMAAs as a legal basis for wide ranging cooperation with foreign partners, including transnational wildlife crime investigations. ICE HSI and CBP currently have CMAAs with 79 countries.
In 2019, ICE HSI Nairobi conducted joint ivory DNA sampling operations in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology (CCB). As part of ongoing ICE HSI investigations into international wildlife trafficking related ivory seizures in Africa and Asia, ICE HSI partnered with the CCB, the Ugandan Revenue Authority, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service in May 2019 and September 2019 respectively. The sampling process developed by the CCB allows wildlife crime investigators to determine the origin of poached ivory, ascertain the species and subspecies, and cultivate investigative leads that can link prior seizures and identify suspects involved with the trafficking of illicit ivory. As most ivory traffickers face prosecution for a single seizure, connecting these traffickers to multiple large seizures greatly benefits prosecutors, allowing them to charge the traffickers with major crimes and impose tougher penalties.
By means of an interagency agreement with INL, ICE HSI developed a Cross-Border Financial Investigations Training program. This program provides specialized financial investigations training and technical assistance to combat wildlife trafficking and other conservation crimes through the application of anti-money laundering laws and regulations.
From June 4 to June 30, 2019, USFWS/OLE, CBP, ICE HSI, NOAA, USFS and the INTERPOL National Central Bureau Washington, D.C., coordinated their collective participation in the INTERPOL and World Customs Organization’s (WCO) sponsored Operation Thunderball. USAID funded INTERPOL’s facilitation of Operation Thunderball, which consisted largely of police and customs administrations leading joint enforcement operations against wildlife and timber crime across 109 countries. This intelligence-driven operation led to the arrest of 582 suspects worldwide. There were 1,828 seizures reported globally as part of Operation Thunderball. These seizures included: live primates; big cats; elephant ivory and rhino horn; live birds and reptiles; large quantities of animal parts; marine life such as coral, seahorses, dolphins, and sharks; and 2,550 cubic meters of timber. From August 20 to August 22, 2019, ICE HSI agents joined with various federal partners to further combat illegal logging through collaborative education. Officials from DOJ ENRD, ICE HSI, USFS and the U.S. Embassy Gaborone in Botswana, came together to facilitate an in-depth law enforcement training workshop in Botswana. The three-day workshop took place in Kasane, Botswana and included an interdisciplinary cadre of students from customs, police, forestry, and local tribal leadership and focused primarily on customs fraud, border enforcement, money laundering, interviewing techniques, prosecution strategies, and the need for trans-national cooperation. Participants also discussed agricultural and urban expansion as the primary causes of forest degradation and deforestation.
Throughout 2019, AFRICOM Counter Threat Finance (CTF) Branch continued its unique relationship with USFWS/OLE, resulting in a significant increase in the strategic (trends, drivers, impacts, and convergence) and operational understanding of illegal wildlife networks operating throughout Africa. As a result, AFRICOM CTF provided real-time analysis and expertise on several USFWS/OLE priority individuals and networks, which contributed to operational planning leading to successful law enforcement finishes. For example, with information provided by USFWS/OLE, AFRICOM CTF identified and passed key lead information to USFWS/OLE that lead to the arrest of several Cameroonians involved in the illegal wildlife trade and the seizure of elephant ivory and tails. Utilizing USFWS/OLE data, AFRICOM CTF provided operational support that degraded the largest illicit wildlife trafficking network in Central and West Africa, provided ground-breaking strategic and operational support to combat numerous transnational criminal organizations spanning the AFRICOM Area of Responsibly, and contributed to the potential mitigation of illegal mineral extraction and logging in Central Africa.
In addition to providing support to USFWS/OLE, AFRICOM CTF has assisted the U.S. IC in understanding the convergence of the illegal wildlife trade and other illicit activities. Specifically, with invaluable information provided by USFWS/OLE, AFRICOM CTF advanced knowledge regarding illicit networks that are involved in the illegal wildlife trade and illustrated possible convergence with other nefarious activities like human and narcotics trafficking, as well as support to violent extremist organizations. Related, and following the extradition of Mouza Kromah, AFRICOM CTF provided operational support that contributed to locating individuals within the same network that were involved in wildlife trafficking, money laundering and narcotics trafficking.
Within the larger U.S. defense enterprise, AFRICOM CTF supported the development of an IC-wide automated methodology to enable near real-time analysis and targeting of major illicit trafficking networks critical centers of gravity. This methodology leverages the added accesses provided by wildlife crime and publicly available data to reveal broader international trafficking, convergent threat activity, and other third-party activity in Africa. This effort will include a dedicated unclassified artificial intelligence/machine learning methodology to be used throughout the interagency to integrate and coordinate operations among federal law enforcement and IC partners alike.
The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) prioritizes enhanced partnership among enforcement and intelligence agencies, bringing to bear its unique authorities to reduce and track the illicit proceeds generated by wildlife trafficking, and pairing work against wildlife trafficking with other initiatives against regional armed groups and transnational organized crime. In 2019, Treasury led the U.S. government’s extensive participation in a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) project assessing the money laundering aspects of wildlife crime. As part of the project, more than 50 jurisdictions across the FATF Global Network provided relevant insight and case studies for a report geared to environmental agencies, financial intelligence units, and law enforcement. Importantly, the report presents the FATF standards as a framework for jurisdictions to address wildlife trafficking threats by strengthening their national laws, policies, domestic coordination, and international cooperation, and partnerships with the private sector. This will also serve as a tool for the private sector and not-for-profit organizations to encourage governments to adopt the good practices against this harmful crime. In addition, Treasury has increased engagement with the private sector, particularly with dealers in precious metals, stones, and jewels to share information on money laundering threats associated with illicit wildlife trafficking. Through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Treasury utilizes available information for the potential application of Treasury’s sanctions authorities against individuals and entities who engage in wildlife trafficking.
In 2019, the IC made progress on strengthening enforcement and building international cooperation in support of the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) orchestrated a collaborative pilot between the USFWS/OLE Attaché in Gabon and the IC to harness publicly available information for tipping and cueing. This effort assisted in the detection of illegal fishing, gold mining and poaching activities and produced tipoffs that were quickly passed to Gabonese law enforcement counterparts. This pilot resulted in the Gabonese seizure of a Chinese fishing trawler, a repeated illegal fishing offender in Gabonese waters. It also identified illicit gold mining activity for prosecution by Gabonese counterparts. Also, the IC solidified collection plans and made other technical progress on an IC and USFWS/OLE collaborative initiative to improve the understanding of illicit trafficking activities and their connection with other threats. This effort will inform military and law enforcement planning and operational activities going forward.
In 2019, USAID strengthened law enforcement capacity to combat national, regional, and transnational wildlife trafficking through formal law enforcement training, community outreach and mobilization to monitor and inform on illicit activities, and support for the use of sophisticated technologies. In Tanzania, USAID trained 63 village forest monitors to patrol critical chimpanzee habitats in local community forest reserves across 520,000 hectares for signs of illegal activities. The monitors helped district law enforcement officials confiscate illegally harvested forest products. Training was complemented with community awareness campaigns in villages and schools to address the importance of endangered species conservation and to reduce misconceptions about chimpanzees that can lead to their persecution by local people.
Despite some policy restrictions on USAID’s assistance to the governments of DRC and Republic of Congo in 2019, agency partners provided training, and equipment and infrastructure support to a total of 245 park rangers in Central Africa in FY 2019. This contributed to 92,000 km of patrol effort, leading to the arrest of 462 people for wildlife trafficking, destruction of 387 hunting camps, and removal of 18,701 snares and traps. Furthermore, more than 120 kilograms of ivory were confiscated in FY 2019.
Comprehensive investments in conservation and security in the Garamba-Bili-Chinko landscape which comprises parts of DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR) proved successful in 2019. Years of investment through three USAID partnerships combined with DOS Peacekeeping Operations funding for vehicles, new equipment and training helped rangers maintain effective patrols more than 82 percent of Garamba National Park and surrounding hunting domains. As a result, only eight elephants were poached in 2019 compared to 100 or more per year prior to 2017, ending a decade of sharp decline in the elephant population. Similar results were observed in Chinko Reserve in CAR, which lost no elephants to poaching in 2019 and kept illegal cattle herders out of 17,000 square kilometers. The increased security provided by an effective park ranger force contributed to a reduction in attacks on villages by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and other armed groups, from 68 people attacked in the Garamba area in 2015 to just one person in 2019, and down to two people attacked in 2019 around Chinko.
In DRC, USAID continued to develop the capacity of the national parks agency, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), to use the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), used to provide managers with real-time data on wildlife and poaching patterns. With SMART up and running in 14 Protected Areas and six community managed forests, ICCN’s central unit has been instrumental in coordinating law enforcement monitoring. SMART databases are now transferred regularly to ICCN Headquarters, improving information on law enforcement strategies and needs across sites. In FY 2019, with USAID support, ICCN produced the first national SMART report.
Improving enforcement beyond protected areas is a priority for CWT in DRC. To that end, in 2019 USAID completed a major analysis of the judicial system, reviewing more than 300 cases of wildlife crime heard by DRC courts since 2010. Recommendations from this review included: a secure data management system to track cases, and establishment of mobile courts and legal units in key provincial urban centers to follow up prosecutions in remote urban centers far from Kinshasa. One such unit has been established in Isiro, DRC, for crime around Garamba National Park, based on the successful model supported by USAID in Ouesso, Republic of Congo. In a related approach, USAID’s partner co-managing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in DRC employed two lawyers to enhance follow up on prosecution of wildlife crimes in the local and provincial court system.
USAID support for judicial systems to increase successful prosecutions against wildlife traffickers showed positive results in 2019. In Mozambique, 500 copies of a Rapid Reference Manual for the Investigation and Prosecution of Wildlife Crimes were distributed throughout the country as well as adapted for rangers and customized as a bench book for judges. A total of 162 people (99 males, 63 females), including 61 field prosecutors working in high-crime districts were trained and supported to assist twelve district prosecutors with collection and handling of evidence and case-building. These efforts resulted in 194 prosecuted cases-an unprecedented milestone of 90 percent of initiated cases reaching the prosecution phase, which is a 38 percent increase over the previous year. Similar training in the Philippines increased awareness and implementation of the Wildlife Law Enforcement Manual of Operations, which included upgrading skills for wildlife species identification, handling and management techniques, and conducting investigations of and prosecuting wildlife crimes.
In northern Mozambique, USAID supported rangers and aerial surveillance as part of forward-deployed Rapid Intervention Units under a unified police command. In FY 2019, the combined law enforcement forces operating out of 18 stations throughout the Niassa National Reserve (NNR) conducted 13,145 km of foot patrols and 103,704 km of aerial patrols using fixed-wing and helicopter assets, resulting in 53 arrests.
In the Philippines, USAID programs continued to work with UNODC and DOJ to train prosecutors and judges to improve the fair and efficient prosecution of people accused of committing wildlife and forest-related crimes and launched an online course for judicial officers. The program is also improving the quality of reporting on wildlife crime with support to journalists through training and study tours, including hosting journalists from Southeast Asia on exchange. To determine if individuals that received CWT training were applying improved practices, 347 recipients were interviewed and 335 reported that they are working and applying conservation law enforcement practices. Individuals reported using the rapid reference guides to prosecute wildlife cases and applying advanced unarmed tactical techniques and SMART technology practices.
To improve law enforcement and move beyond seizures to arrests, prosecutions, and convictions, the regional USAID Wildlife Asia program worked with partners from 14 Asian and African countries to co-host five law enforcement capacity-building events with participants from customs, police, wildlife/forestry authorities, prosecutors, and financial crime investigators. These included two Counter Transnational Organized Crime courses designed to improve the skills required to identify and disrupt organized, cross-border wildlife supply chains. The first course was in Vietnam, co-hosted with DOJ, INTERPOL, and the Vietnam People’s Police Academy and included prosecutors from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Presentations from the State Bank of Vietnam and Vietnam General Department of Taxation were new to the training and helped build relationships with these agencies.
As law enforcement capacity improves in Focus Countries through training and experience, USAID has increased support for advanced technologies to complement law enforcement efforts. Sophisticated monitoring such as SMART helped reduce poaching by 92 percent in three protected areas in Indonesia during 2019. In DRC, centrally coordinating the use and analysis of SMART data across 14 Protected Areas and six community-managed forests facilitated evaluation of different law enforcement strategies and needs at different sites. In Zimbabwe, the combination of improved digital communication systems, regular use of SMART, and increased patrols and community awareness and participation, resulted in a significant increase in poaching arrests from 175 in 2018 to 596 in 2019. To support digital records management, USAID and the Department of the Interior (DOI) supported the Philippine government to develop and launch the Biodiversity Resources Access Information Network (BRAIN) System. BRAIN is a platform to strengthen coordination among enforcement agencies and monitor threats and enforcement actions including use of geospatial analysis, coordinated case management and online permitting. In Kenya, USAID purchased a DNA sequencer and supported training for lab technicians to enhance Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) forensics lab operations for accurate identification of wildlife and wildlife products to strengthen the prosecution of wildlife crimes.
Communities continue to play a key role in both the protection and conservation of wildlife on community lands. The USAID-funded Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) activity supports anti-poaching efforts across 39 community conservancies spanning 4.48 million hectares, each one with a sophisticated network of ranger units that conduct regular patrols and use a common radio network. The NRT units work closely with KWS, the police, community conservancies, and private ranchers to protect wildlife while also building peace and enhancing human security. In southern Kenya community rangers are helping to improve anti-poaching efforts, increase joint patrols – including transboundary patrols between Kenya and Tanzania – and promote closer collaboration between community conservancies and KWS in reducing wildlife poaching, trafficking, and human-wildlife conflict. Communities rely on government rangers to combat crime; in Kenya, 886 rangers applied improved law enforcement practices as a result of U.S. government assistance.
In Nepal, USAID supports their volunteer Community-Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs). These units patrol community-managed forests, monitor wildlife presence and illegal activities, and share this information with Protected Area authorities. CBAPUs and their parent organizations (Buffer Zone User Communities and Community Forestry User Committees) served as conservation champions within their communities and raised awareness through interactive meetings, documentaries, quiz contests, orientations on rules and regulations, street dramas, flash mobs, and rallies. Partners worked with 418 CBAPUs in FY 2019, including 34 units established in 2019.
In Zambia, USAID supported community and public-private partnerships to improve wildlife management, build community capacity to deter wildlife trafficking and conservation crimes, and increase opportunity to benefit from a wildlife- and forest-based economy. USAID helped train 26 law enforcement personnel (15 male and 11 female) who were able to apply improved law enforcement practices, including dog handlers for a specialized sniffer dog unit. In FY 2019, USAID increased support for community scouts, training 40 to detect illegal wildlife harvest. A new effort supported the establishment of an Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) that trained 28 community scouts and three wildlife police officers. During its first month, the APU apprehended three suspects with bushmeat, snares, and weapons.
USAID/Brazil implemented activities that strengthened community-based natural resource management and monitoring, including training and support for environmental agents (similar to community rangers), capacity to use technology for effective data collection and reporting, and territorial protections and public policies related to safety and combating illegal activities. In FY 2019, 1,279 people (including 627 indigenous people) were trained and applied their skills as environmental agents, monitoring illegal activities in several indigenous territories across southern Amazonas State.
The National Strategy recognizes that, as we work to strengthen enforcement, we must also reduce demand among consumers at home and abroad. This involves raising awareness about laws and penalties associated with buying or selling illegal wildlife and wildlife products, the efficacy, safety and public health risks of illegal wildlife used as food, medicine or pets, and the economic, social and ecological impacts of wildlife crime. To help people make better choices, we need to reduce opportunities and incentives to buy illegal wildlife products.
In Asia, more than half of USAID CWT support is directed to decrease consumer demand for illegal products through targeted social and behavior change campaigns. In 2019, the regional USAID Wildlife Asia program developed a series of demand reduction campaigns that targeted consumers of illegal wildlife based on research in China, Thailand, and Vietnam. In China, the activity implemented a campaign to increase awareness of the new Wildlife Protection Law and the domestic ivory ban by highlighting penalties for consumption of illegal wildlife products in urban areas. Offline platforms gained close to 108 million impressions and online channels reached more than five million views. After generating public and private sector support, the campaign was promoted through magazines, zoos, the Chengdu Jinsha Museum, Beijing Expo 2019, and Beijing metro lines. Thus far, the campaign has leveraged 20 partners and generated in-kind support of more than $6.8 million.
USAID Wildlife Asia, in collaboration with Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), used digital marketing techniques to deter illegal online purchases. The deterrence messages, as Google ads, were shown when keywords related to illegal wildlife products were used in searches. Of the 560,470 searches which received the deterrence ads, only three percent (17,419) continued to complete their searches by clicking on landing pages. The very low rate of searches continuing to the landing page indicates the powerful impact of the deterrence messages, which informed viewers the content searched may be prohibited and Thai authorities monitor illegal wildlife trade online. Of the 17,419 who clicked and reached landing pages, some (523) took positive action by clicking on the DNP page or sending a message to the DNP reporting hotline.
USAID Wildlife Asia’s research revealed that 66 percent of Thais who own ivory jewelry are women and a majority desire ivory for its perceived beauty; additionally, Thailand has seen a rise in Chinese tourists purchasing ivory. In September 2019, the Beautiful Without Ivory campaign was launched to promote the key messages that “true beauty does not need ivory.” The messages were conveyed by five prominent Thai fashion influencers in a short video that reached more than 100,000 people. The activity, in collaboration with the Minor Group, owner of the Anantara and Avani Hotels, produced a short video to discourage tourists from buying ivory products, delivering conservation messages in English with Chinese subtitles. Since late September 2019, the video has been aired in the in-house channels of Anantara Hotels, and the team worked with the Minor Group so that other hotel chains may adapt and use the video on their networks. By the end of FY 2019, the video reached 44,000 people.
In Vietnam, USAID Wildlife Asia implemented the third phase of a campaign tackling the motivators of rhino horn use related to status in the Vietnam business community. The activity successfully engaged civil society organizations influential among the Vietnamese business community to promote a zero-tolerance stance on wildlife consumption and encourage their corporate members to adopt wildlife protection in their company policies. Eighteen business and religious influencers have been recruited to this campaign and more than 1,000 individuals have participated in campaign activities.
The Saving Species Program managed by USAID/Vietnam conducted a number of activities to better understand the behaviors, beliefs, norms, and cultural expectations of key populations that drive Vietnamese consumption of target wildlife and products. The program conducted a consumer survey for pangolin, ivory, and rhino horn that provides critical baselines of user characteristics in Vietnam and enables tailored Social Behavior Change Communications (SBCC) campaigns. It also revealed the surprising fact that 50 percent of people interviewed did not know about either wildlife protection laws or the new increased penalties under the law, a critical finding that led to the activity implementing a third SBCC media campaign. Based on the results of this consumer survey, new SBCC initiatives to reduce the use of wildlife products from elephant, rhino, and pangolin are being developed.
In Indonesia, songbirds are the most widely traded species group, including threatened species unsustainably caught in the wild. Through its BIJAK project, USAID is working on a social and behavior change campaign designed to improve management practices of songbirds while working collaboratively with songbird husbandry associations. USAID conducted innovative formative research using short message service (SMS) texting technology to gain insights on songbird consumers, songbird competition judges, the media, and preferences and behavioral attributes of songbird competitors that could collectively help design demand reduction interventions.
In the Philippines, USAID’s Protect Wildlife activity partnered with Rare to deploy their Campaigning for Conservation training to assist local governments and protected area management boards with community-based behavior change campaigns around wildlife demand reduction and biodiversity conservation. Campaigns were implemented in local languages and focused on specific species in critical areas. USAID also supported the ongoing Wild and Alive campaign with the Philippine government, which is a wildlife demand reduction strategy targeting travelers in airports and seaports.
The USFWS International Affairs program helps to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products, supporting projects that ‘keep wildlife in the wild’ and prevent species from entering the illegal trade altogether. One project (2017-2019), in partnership with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, aims to conserve vulnerable bear species in Cambodia by reducing demand for illegal bear products. Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are targeted for meat as well as bile and other products related to traditional medicine in Southeast Asia. With robust social science approaches, the grantees conducted surveys and focus groups in three Cambodian communities to understand attitudes and beliefs about bear bile as well as the demographics of bear bile users. Building on this, the grantees used posters and ads as part of a behavior change campaign for reducing bear bile use, with community-specific messaging. To sustain these efforts, in-country partners also received intensive training on the science of behavior change for conservation.
Building International Cooperation
The DOS Bureau of Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) works globally to strengthen international cooperation, maximize diplomatic efforts, and secure U.S. interests on CWT. OES engages through a range of regional and multilateral fora, including the Group of Seven (G7), Group of Twenty (G20), United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), High-level Political Forum (HLPF), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) and CITES. For instance, OES engagement in ASEAN secured high-level interest and commitments from ASEAN members. The United States supported a March 2019 Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in which ASEAN Ministers responsible for CWT issued a strong statement on their commitment to CWT and identified tackling wildlife cybercrime as a key priority for ASEAN members.
DOS engagement with strategic partners resulted in important progress on CWT. For instance, during the 28th session of the CCPCJ in 2019, OES and INL made significant contributions to the resolution “Strengthening Regional and International Cooperation in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife” which the United States co-sponsored. OES helped support the first ever ministerial-level meeting in Latin America on CWT, hosted by Peru in Lima in October 2019, where OES Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marcia Bernicat led a U.S. side event on transboundary cooperation for wildlife enforcement networks and announced OES funding and partnership with UNODC to support meetings of the South American Wildlife Enforcement Network (SudWEN) in 2020 and 2021, which Peru offered to host in 2020.
DOS’ bilateral diplomatic engagement has secured stronger national commitments from around the world by pressing for countries with legal ivory trade to ban their domestic ivory markets. Marking progress in this arena, in 2019 Japan passed new regulations requiring that anyone selling whole tusks is required to prove the age of the tusks by carbon-dating as a way to ensure that any ivory sold was imported before CITES. The United States continues to push for near-complete ivory bans in all countries where the trade contributes to poaching of wild populations.
OES leads U.S. efforts to promote international cooperation and coordination to combat wildlife trafficking through regional Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs), including through a nearly $1 million award to the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) to strengthen WENs worldwide. WENs are regional intergovernmental networks that bring together wildlife authorities, law enforcement, customs and border officials, prosecutors, and other stakeholders to build cross-border cooperation as part of this award. In August 2019, in conjunction with the ICCWC, OES convened the Third Global WEN Meeting on the margins of CITES CoP18. The meeting, which was funded by OES, built upon successes from the First (2013) and Second (2016) Global WEN Meetings and brought together more than 100 government officials, NGOs, IGOs, and key stakeholders from more than 40 countries to share experiences on further strengthening collaborative efforts to CWT at the regional and global levels. Also, as part of the award, in 2019 CITES also finalized the Guidelines for WENs which provide a self-assessment tool that can be used to establish a new WEN or strengthen an existing WEN. These guidelines were piloted and refined at the Third Global WEN Meeting and will be implemented and tested at the 2020/2021 SudWEN meetings.
OES held its annual Zoohackathon in 2019, bringing together teams of university students, software professionals, and wildlife enthusiasts from a record number of cities in a weekend-long coding competition to create unique technological solutions to combat wildlife trafficking challenges. This program supports U.S. efforts to reduce wildlife trafficking by strengthening USG relationships with private sector stakeholders, raising public awareness among new and diverse audiences, and empowering participants to become part of the solution. Zoohackathon 2019 brought together more than 1,000 participants across 15 events in 14 countries around the world and generated more than 135 prototype solutions to combat wildlife trafficking. To help develop winning solutions, OES and U.S. embassies in host countries recruited private sector technology and NGO partners such as Microsoft, Vulcan, Haibu, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The 2019 global winner, Colombia’s Team Quantum, created “Good Wood,” a solution that combines hardware and software to monitor the amount of timber carried by logging trucks.
In 2019, DOS continued to lead the U.S. interagency effort on the Administration’s priority initiative to combat conservation crimes. Wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, IUU fishing, and the illegal extraction and trade of gold and other minerals are included in the initiative. These illegal activities have links to transnational organized crime, including drugs, weapons, and human trafficking, and pose similar threats to national security, economic prosperity, the rule of law and the environment. Under this initiative, OES spearheads an interagency effort to tackle financial crimes and money laundering associated with wildlife crime. This effort includes policy approaches, capacity building and training, and working with the financial sector.
The U.S. Government continues to engage with U.S. trading partners on efforts to combat wildlife trafficking under its free trade agreements (FTAs) with Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR), Peru, Chile, Jordan, Oman, and Morocco. Technical support is operationalized under work programs implementing environmental cooperation agreements negotiated in parallel to free trade agreements.
Under the framework of CAFTA-DR, DOS provided funding to DOI International Technical Assistance Program (DOI-ITAP) to support the Central American and Dominican Republic Wildlife Enforcement Network (CAWEN – www.roavis.net) as well as implementation of CITES. DOI-ITAP supported the March 2019 8th regional CAWEN/ROAVIS meeting, where participants held a concurrent regional CITES coordination meeting and conducted a site visit to the USFWS/OLE Port of Miami cargo facilities for capacity building on inspection techniques and an exchange on investigative information. Following up on that engagement, in June 2019 DOI worked with Salvadoran CAWEN members to organize the network’s first joint inspection and enforcement operation with USFWS/OLE at the international airport in San Salvador and the maritime Port of Acajutla, resulting in changes to customs operations. In December 2019, DOI-ITAP supported a 4-month comprehensive update of all environmental regulations in Costa Rica, led by the chief environmental prosecutor from Costa Rica and including the involvement of 59 government officials (24 women, 35 men). The multi-agency group updated the policies and regulations for criminal prosecution of environmental crimes and created new policies/regulations for the country’s new environmental laws which will be applied when handling environmental cases. Finally, DOI-ITAP and partner agencies supported further updates and expansions to the CITES electronic permit system in Costa Rica increasing agency cooperation and government transparency.
Under the 2018-2020 work program for environmental cooperation under the U.S. -Chile FTA, DOS, through an interagency agreement with DOI-ITAP, supported activities to combat wildlife trafficking in Chile. The first ever Spanish language Conflict Resolution Manual for Protected Areas and its “collaborative dialogue” approach was designed by the National Forest Corporation (CONAF) with support from DOI-ITAP. In 2019, CONAF issued an internal decree officially recognizing the Conflict Resolution manual and instructing its 450+ Park Rangers to apply the collaborative dialogue process. The span of work on this Manual shows that when Park Rangers and other frontline responders possess the skills to prevent and solve conflicts, species and ecosystems are better protected against poaching, misuse, and other threats. DOI-ITAP and CONAF conducted a 4-day Conflict Resolution workshop in August 2019 in Olmue, Chile for 30 Park Rangers from throughout Chile. DOS OES, through DOI-ITAP, supported the Government of Chile’s participation in the October 2019 First Americas Regional Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife held in Lima, Peru. DOI-ITAP staff presented the Conflict Resolution Manual at the October 2019 III Latin American Congress of Protected Areas in Lima, Peru. This presentation allowed DOI-ITAP to socialize the methodology developed with CONAF but applicable to other Latin American and global parks and protected areas.
Under the 2018-2021 work programs for environmental technical cooperation under the FTAs with Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, DOS, through an interagency agreement with DOI-ITAP, provided support on CITES implementation. In Jordan, DOI-ITAP worked with an NGO partner, the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Sustainable Human Development (JOHUD), to carry out a mobile app contest for CITES permit applications. DOI also worked with the CITES authority and their partners in Jordan to develop an electronic permitting database, to strengthen legislation and implementation of CITES, and to provide training on CITES laws and regulations in Jordan and internationally. In Morocco, DOI-ITAP worked with the CITES authorities to establish a CITES steering committee, to develop an electronic database to strengthen CITES coordination, to provide technical assistance and training to Customs inspectors, and to develop a national outreach campaign on wildlife trafficking. DOI-ITAP also continued work with an NGO, Barbary Macaque Conservation in the Rif (BMCRif), on raising awareness to protect the endangered Barbary macaque. DOI organized a study tour in Florida for Oman’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) and the Environment Society of Oman focused on sea turtle conservation and developed a work plan with Omani authorities that includes having a technical specialist to act as a CITES advisor to MECA in country.
To advance international cooperation on wildlife crime cases, DOS supports the World Customs Organization (WCO), which is a member ICCWC. In 2019, WCO conducted a global wildlife operation that further strengthened Police-Customs cooperation. As a result, nearly four tons of ivory and 783 pangolins were seized, with an added 866 kg of pangolin scales and parts. Many reptiles were also seized, including 4,819 turtles and tortoises, 1,521 rat snakes, 296 pythons, 91 cobras, and 64 chameleons. Other commodities that were seized included 43 kg of rhino horn, 145 kg of shark fins, and 113 live parrots. A total of 267 seizures and 125 arrests were a direct result of this operation.
Importantly, the United States has also supported global coordination efforts to implement CITES. The USFWS International Affairs program carries out functions of the Secretary of the Interior as the U.S. Management Authority and Scientific Authority for CITES. The International Affairs program convenes USG agencies to prepare for CITES meetings and enhance implementation of CITES globally. As one example of inter-agency efforts to build CITES capacity, DOS funding and a USFWS International Affairs cooperative agreement support the CITES Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, to combat wildlife trafficking by executing activities outlined in the Decisions and Resolutions adopted by CITES Parties. Additionally, an inter-agency agreement between USFWS and INL aims to enhance implementation of CITES in Southeast Asia. This work has led to numerous outcomes, including the development of National Ivory Action Plans and enhanced CITES implementation in Cambodia and Lao PDR.
USAID continued CWT support in critical transboundary landscapes. In Mozambique, USAID continued to support an embedded national law enforcement advisor in the National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC), who coordinated national and regional efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, especially with South Africa and Tanzania. An important outcome of these efforts has been no poaching of elephants in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve since May 2018, despite being the size of Tennessee, in a poorly governed border area with Tanzania, and once a hotspot for wildlife trafficking.
In the Malawi-Zambia Transboundary Landscape regional program, efforts to improve coordination between government wildlife and intelligence agencies and local partners resulted in 127 people arrested for trafficking or trading wildlife products and 444 kilograms of confiscated ivory. With the arrests and incarceration of 11 Chinese nationals, security services disrupted a major transnational syndicate operating in Africa and Asia. Data suggests that this network is pivotal to wildlife crime and trafficking across the region – including linkages to Uganda, Zambia, and Botswana. The ringleader is described as “Malawi’s most wanted suspected wildlife trafficker and notorious kingpin” and is currently facing charges of possession of 103 pieces of rhino horn and live pangolins. Malawi and Zambia also continued a Community Enforcement Network (CEN) with USAID support, achieving an 80 percent success rate in arresting serious offenders. All the ivory- and pangolin-related arrests and seizures were assisted by the CEN. As a result of the close collaboration between the Malawian and Zambian departments of national parks, police, prosecutors, and ranger patrols, data indicate that poaching was very limited in Malawi. Elephant populations in Malawi have increased 50 percent from an estimated 80 elephants in 2016 to 120 elephants in 2019.
Reporting by investigative journalists raises the visibility of CWT issues and holds to account government officials from all countries where CWT occurs. In 2019, USAID supported several journalism activities. In Kenya, 17 East African journalists attended a five-day workshop, which covered the illegal wildlife trade, including demand and supply drivers and law enforcement challenges. It also explored how to counter challenges reporters face due to a lack of time, money or expertise, resistance from newsrooms to cover environmental issues, and threats from vested interests. The USAID-supported Thai/Tanzania Journalist Exchange Program provided training and study tours for five journalists from each country to learn about CWT challenges and efforts in each country. The journalist exchange resulted in more than 100 news and investigative reports disseminated in major print, online, radio and TV media. In the Philippines, USAID brought journalists to southern Palawan to showcase its CWT-related activities. The stories appeared in two major newspapers.
In Tanzania, USAID and the World Bank co-chair the Development Partners Wildlife Sub-Group. The group fosters collaboration among United Nations agencies and donors engaged in CWT and biodiversity conservation. USAID’s CWT implementing partners leveraged their activities with funds from such organizations as the Weiss Foundation, Wildcat Foundation, and Vulcan. The U.S. Embassy’s Political and Economic Section coordinates multi-agency initiatives among USFWS, DOS Africa Bureau and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Department of Defense, AFRICOM, and other U.S. agencies involved in CWT in Tanzania, and works with the government and other international and private donor partners. In addition, USG stakeholders meet monthly as the Wildlife Working Group and collaborate regularly with the National Anti-Poaching Task Force, the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) leadership, and in the 28 TAWA game reserves.
In 2019, USAID, in partnership with DOJ, broadened its focus on countering wildlife trafficking in Bangladesh. USAID’s funding to DOJ is building the capacity of the Bangladesh interagency law enforcement organizations and mobilizing networks of informed community stakeholders to combat national and transnational wildlife and related environmental crimes. Additionally, USAID’s support to INTERPOL in 2019 is building national and regional capacity to enforce laws against environmental crimes. Collaboratively, these efforts will help improve the status of endangered and protected wildlife throughout Bangladesh by reducing illegal killing and gathering of wildlife.
USAID support to INTERPOL helped elevate the importance of wildlife crime as a transnational crime within police forces across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Environmental crime has become one of INTERPOL’s seven policing goals. Additionally, senior police representatives from agencies worldwide have unanimously backed a resolution that called upon the national law enforcement authorities of INTERPOL’s 188 member countries to recognize that environmental crime is not restricted by borders and involves organized crime networks which engage in other crimes. USAID supported INTERPOL training focused on five areas: capacity building, operational planning and coordination, intelligence gathering and analysis, international meetings and seminars, and catalyzing interest and actions among national law enforcement officials to organize global operations.
In West Africa USAID continued its collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States to prepare and submit documents for the CITES Secretariat that presented a common position for West Africa’s priorities and guidelines on CWT issues leading up to CITES CoP18. A draft West Africa Strategy for Combating Wildlife Crime was prepared and presented at the CITES CoP. Continuing its emphasis on building capacity for CWT two Training-of-Trainers sessions were held in Senegal and Benin for thirty customs and forestry officials from six African countries – Guinea, Benin Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Senegal, and Gabon – relating to the legal requirements for implementing and enforcing CITES guidelines under national laws. Training modules were developed for transboundary enforcement and customs officers in English, French and Portuguese. The second cohort of fourteen USAID-supported students received their Master of Science degrees in the Management and Conservation of Species in Trade in 2019. These graduates continue to work in their respective countries to support CITES implementation, enforcement, and compliance and several have advanced to lead the CITES Management Authority in their respective countries.
NOAA OLE actively participates in INTERPOL’s Fisheries Crime Working Group (FCWG) where a NOAA OLE representative serves on the Executive Board. INTERPOL can coordinate the collection of information to support international investigations and the prosecution of criminals involved in illegal wildlife trafficking and associated crime. This is achieved through cooperation and information sharing between clusters of law enforcement agencies from various jurisdictions, as well as by collaborating with international partners.
NOAA OLE representatives attended the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group (WCWG) in Singapore in November 2019. The working group shares information about transnational networks involved in the illegal wildlife trade. Although this group traditionally focuses on terrestrial wildlife and timber, NOAA OLE’s participation brings its expertise to the group, which is needed due to the increased identification and listing of marine species under CITES. NOAA OLE was also able to network with colleagues from Southeast Asian, East African and Gulf of Guinea States to discuss counter IUU fishing and seafood fraud initiatives underway in the United States.
NOAA OLE participates in a U.S./Canada Border Intelligence Working Group hosted by CBP (Calais, Maine). The group holds monthly intelligence meetings with the objective to increase intelligence sharing and strengthen law enforcement partnerships towards the common goal of securing our nation’s Homeland and protecting our natural resources. These meetings include our federal, tribal, state, county, and local law enforcement partners from both sides of the border. Specific to NOAA OLE’s interest is the ability to meet with Canadian counterparts, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Canadian Food Inspection Service (CFIA).
NOAA OLE hosted an inaugural U.S./Canada Northeast Regional Enforcement Working Group meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in December 2019. The meeting was attended by various representatives from Canada DFO, Maine Marine Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA OLE. The meeting provided an important forum to hold open law enforcement discussions related to the planning of joint fisheries enforcement operations, opportunities for bilateral cooperation to combat IUU fishing and trade in illegal products, fisheries intelligence development and sharing, Port State Measures implementation, aboriginal initiatives and issues, and capacity building cooperation. NOAA OLE also participates in the North Atlantic Fisheries Intelligence Group (NAFIG) meetings. Resource protection, revenue and food safety officials from Europe and North America attend these meetings. The group is tasked with information exchange concerning transnational actors violating commercial fishery, tax, and labor regulations. Member countries also share law enforcement tactics, techniques, and procedures.
NOAA OLE participated in a U.S. /Mexico Bilateral meeting in Mexico City, Mexico to engage with Mexican counterparts on several wildlife trafficking issues involving marine species. The United States continues to see instances of dried sea cucumber being smuggled through the U.S. /Mexico border at California Ports of Entry. The species of sea cucumber seen is usually brown sea cucumber (Isostichopus fuscus), which is in CITES Appendix III. There were continued instances of totoaba smuggling in 2019 at ports of entry in California with ongoing investigations into this activity; There was an increase in commercial quantities of geoduck being imported at California ports of entry with no documentation showing the lawful origin.
NOAA OLE participated in a U.S./Canada Bilateral Fisheries Enforcement Workshop in St. Andrews, New Brunswick in June 2019. The annual workshop allows for open discussions and planning for joint fisheries enforcement operations; cooperation on inspections of cross border import/export of fish and wildlife; better coordination, development and sharing of intelligence between the two countries and discussions regarding Native American and First Nations issues.
Recent work suggests that Southeast Asia serves as the top global hotspot for illegal trafficking and direct take of endangered sea turtles. Recent genetic and telemetry studies are beginning to indicate strong connectivity between U.S., Indonesian, and Philippine sea turtle populations. As many U.S.-managed sea turtle populations use this region for foraging grounds, migration corridors, and for nesting rookeries, it is likely that turtles from U.S. -managed populations are represented in this illegal trade and take. In both the Philippines and Indonesia, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is collaborating with local governmental agencies, NGOs, and local universities to better understand the effects of the region’s small-scale fisheries on protected species, such as sea turtles. To date, rapid bycatch assessments (i.e. interview-based surveys) are being conducted in Indonesia and the Philippines. These consist interviews characterizing fishing vessels, fishing gear, scope of fishing operations, and bycatch rates (e.g. sea turtles, marine mammals, elasmobranchs). They are also designed to understand the linkages between fisheries bycatch and illegal trafficking of sea turtles. These initial surveys are the foundation for further conservation efforts, including efforts towards reducing the number of sea turtles caught as bycatch that may potentially end up in illegal trade.
In addition, NOAA Fisheries is working to catalogues and monitor large seizures of green and hawksbill sea turtles being trafficked through the Philippines (particularly in Palawan). In partnership with the Philippine Department of Natural Resources, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, the University of Philippines-IB Genetics Program, and a local NGO, they have standardized data collection protocols, developed genetic tissue sampling kits and a response team to support law enforcement interdiction events, and created the necessary processing and storage logistics so that genetic samples from stranded animals and illegally trafficked sea turtles can be stored and ultimately analyzed. Additionally, NOAA is co-organizing a Southeast Asian regional sea turtle genetics workshop to coordinate and standardize data collection and sample analysis.
Also, collaborations between NOAA Fisheries and a broad coalition of partners have resulted in recent conservation benefits for leatherback sea turtles within two island areas of the Maluku Province, Indonesia. In the Kei islands, as many as 100 leatherback turtles have been hunted annually, while on Buru Island the leatherback sea turtle nesting beach has experienced high poaching rates. In the Kei Islands, the formation of a robust regional monitoring and conservation outreach program has reduced documented leatherback take from 103 in 2017 to five in 2019. On Buru Island, the establishment of a beach monitoring and conservation outreach program reduced poaching of leatherback nests from 71 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2019; reduced harvested nesting females from three to five females/year prior to 2017 to zero in 2019; implemented satellite tagging of five nesting leatherbacks to understand regional connectivity; and helped pass village level regulations that encourage sea turtle conservation and protection. It is important to note that these preliminary successes will require sustained commitments to maintain conservation momentum and ensure success over time.
A key function of the USFWS International Affairs program is to enhance international cooperation for species imperiled by the illegal wildlife trade. USFWS provides support and interagency coordination to protect saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica and Saiga borealis) in Central Asia and Mongolia. As an ancient and unique species important to steppe ecosystems, saiga are now suffering significant declines due to increased hunting for meat and poaching of males for their horns, which are in demand for traditional medicine. Saiga endure further losses from disease and environmental changes. Since 2016, the USFWS International Affairs program has supported Fauna and Flora International to tackle the illegal trade of saiga horn in Kazakhstan, leading to improved conservation capacity, stronger interagency and intergovernmental collaboration, and enhanced community engagement. Most importantly, this work contributed to an increase in the saiga population in the Ustyurt Plateau in Kazakhstan, where saiga numbers have risen from 1,270 in 2016 to 5,900 in 2019. In July 2019, staff from USFWS International Affairs and the Regional Environmental Office in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan worked together to conduct a site visit to the Ustyurt plateau, where the team met with provincial and local authorities responsible for saiga conservation and wildlife law enforcement. This inter-agency group also met with Kazakh authorities at the national level to share information about U.S. investments in the region and resources offered through USFWS. USFWS International Affairs continues to support saiga conservation, coordinating with other U.S. Embassies in Central Asia, as well as with USAID and the U.S. Geological Survey.
To highlight another project leveraging international cooperation, USFWS International Affairs contributed to the conservation of snow leopards (Panthera uncia) through a grant to International Snow Leopard Trust in 2017-2019. With only approximately 4,000-6,000 of these cats left in the wild, snow leopards are highly targeted for their fur, bones, and parts in the illegal trade. Researchers estimate that hundreds of snow leopards have been poached every year since 2008. Aiming to enhance trade information and intergovernmental cooperation for snow leopard protection, this project resulted in a centralized database for all incidents of crime against snow leopards. Further, this project led to a unanimous agreement on behalf of all 12 snow leopard range country governments to support anti-poaching efforts and to exchange data on snow leopard trafficking. This work protects snow leopards like Anu, an 11-year-old female who lives in Mongolia and wears a GPS collar tracked by Snow Leopard Trust. Anu had her fifth litter of cubs in 2019, setting the record for oldest snow leopard in the wild to give birth.
Read the 2020 END Wildlife Trafficking Report.