The effective monitoring and control of transboundary movements is a key component of wildlife protection. In most countries, this task falls upon Customs which is at the forefront of efforts to counter wildlife trafficking and ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is practiced legally by implementing the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as relevant national legislation.
Representing 179 Customs administrations around the globe, the World Customs Organization (WCO) has long been involved in combating illegal wildlife trade by raising awareness of the issue among frontline Customs officers, organizing training to improve their targeting and identification capabilities, leading international enforcement operations aimed at wildlife smuggling, and developing practical guidance in the form of various training resources.
Benefitting from the strong support of CITES Secretariat and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it was only natural for WCO to join CITES Secretariat, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank in creating the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) in 2010. Although specialized staff from the five organizations have worked together in the past, since the launch of ICCWC, their collaboration has become more structured bringing together the expertise of each agency to support national authorities i n their efforts to tackle wildlife crime.
Given the escalating levels of poaching and illegal trade--particularly in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn--and strong evidence of the increased involvement of organized crime groups in wildlife trafficking, much more work lies ahead for WCO and its partners. This article touches upon some of the actions undertaken by Customs administrations to stop illegal wildlife trade at borders and also highlights some of the many challenges that Customs faces while trying to defeat criminals.
One of the challenges all Customs and law enforcement officers face is the sheer volume of international traffic. In 2012, world container port throughput amounted to 601.8 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs)--the standard measure used in container trading. Seaports can process from several hundred to 50,000 containers daily. Air cargo volumes are also substantial and increasing with forecasts for 2014 predicting 38 million tonnes of air freight and around 1.3 billion international air passengers.
Another challenge facing Customs officials is the ever-changing methods that criminals use to smuggle wildlife products. Organized and well-connected criminal gangs blend illegal consignments with the huge volume of legitimate trade. New means of concealment are invented all the time...