A recent anti-smuggling operation by the Russian Far Eastern Customs mobile unit resulted in the confiscation of more than 500 squirrel and weasel skins and 24 kg of grass frog fat. the illegal wildlife products were found in the possession of Russian locomotive crew on the regular Russia-China route. According to the Customs officers, the Russians were acting as couriers for a Chinese gang to transport the goods to China.
The Chinese penchant for exotic animal products for food and use in traditional medicine has led to a poaching epidemic for target species in neighbouring countries. Frog fat has become popular in recent years and is used prepare an expensive cosmetic cream as well as a medicine reputes for its nourishing effect on the ‘Yin’ and as tonic for the kidneys. A kilo of the substance is more precious than gold fetching prices in China that vary from $15,000 to as much $50,000 depending on the quality.
The method of extracting frog fat is cruel in the extreme. The frogs have their joints slightly cut and are then hung upside down on a line allowing the fat to drip down into a collecting bowl beneath. The process takes several hours during which the frog remains alive. The average harvest is a mere 2 grams of fat per frog meaning that it took an estimated 12,000 frogs to amass the confiscated 24 kilograms.
The frogs were not the only victims. According to police, the Chinese gang leaders, infuriated at the loss of the cargo, have had a number of their underlings executed that they held responsible for the failure of the operation.
The Operative Customs of the Russian Far East is chronically underfunded compared to the well-heeled criminal gangs. Nevertheless, thanks to support the US-based Save the Tiger Fund and Phoenix, a Russian conservation group, custom’s mobile wildlife investigation unit has notched up a number of successes against wildlife traffickers in recent months.