A special department of the Russian Far Eastern Customs has recently revealed and eliminated an illegal wildlife trade channel that used to traffic wildlife products, including tiger skins, bones, bear paws and bile, and other items of high demand in China and South- East Asia.
The team had been keeping the crime ring under surveillance for over a year before the bust took place. To their surprise, the Ussuriisky Customs officers uncovered 2 tons of dried sea cucumbers, 136 bear paws, 6 bear biles, and 32 kg of frogs’ parts, all worth of $400,000, in a cache under a false bottom of a truck. Under the first questioning the arrested driver looked coy about the source of the contraband, but when he was told about rigorous searches in the houses of his bosses, he showed a novice’s zeal to help the investigation.
The customs intelligence indicates there are several people, that shielded and co-ordinated illegal dealings. Three of them were arrested. Only in 2001 they smuggled more than 4 tons of bear paws to the countries of the Pacific Rim. Assuming that a paw weighs one kilo, it took an estimated 1,000 bears to amass 4 tons. Unfortunately, that cargo slipped off, but the customs officers assure that the traffic, including wildlife products, will never go through this channel again.
The customs officers have installed criminal proceedings against the wildlife dealer and anticipate more arrests on this case.
It is not the first big success of the Customs this year. On September 27th 2002 the customs officers confiscated a tiger skin at Grodekovsky checkpoint on the Russian -Chinese border. The nature treasure was found in the rags squeezed into a bucket under a big truck. The customs experts estimate the quality of the skin as perfect and note that it was taken out as a single piece like a stocking. It can be used for making a stuffed animal as there were claws and head on the skin. The Chinese driver was detained and ordered out of the country after having paid a fine. The skin will be donated to the Customs museum or Inspection Tiger.
Another contraband of 420-g tiger bones was stopped on the Russian -Chinese border in Khasan district, Southern Primorye, on October 28, 2002. A Chinese was hiding the tiger products in a case of Choko pies.
The Phoenix Fund rewarded the Customs Departments with Oscar Awards for successful operations. The Oscar Award project was developed to encourage law enforcement agencies in Primorsky region to investigate environmental violations and crimes, illegal trade and other environmental law abuses. The most successful agencies are rewarded with wildlife guidebooks and equipment that enables them to improve their work. The funds for the awards come from Thomas Plant, Phoenix’s partner in the US.
For 11 months of 2002 Phoenix have rewarded several law enforcement agencies for over 12 cases of successful operations, confiscations, and elimination of illegal wildlife trade channels.