Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jun 17

Big Sisters Island after mass coral bleaching
wild shores of singapore

Singapore Bird Report-May 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Noble Volute (Cymbiola nobilis) @ Pulau Sekudu
Monday Morgue

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Global effort busts wildlife smugglers

International cast, including AVA, work to nab suspected kingpin and key players
Zaihan Mohamed Yusof Straits Times 12 Jun 17;

After three years, the suspected kingpin behind the smuggling of wildlife parts out of Africa has been arrested near the Kenya-Uganda border recently.

The international operation started in Singapore.

In March 2014, the authorities here seized a 1-tonne shipment of elephant tusks on its way to Laos.

The Straits Times learnt that the tusks had been moved from Uganda to Kenya before an attempt was made to ship them through Singapore.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) alerted the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, an inter-governmental organisation based in Africa tasked with tackling the illegal wildlife trade. AVA provided the container number and port of departure, among other details.

A pattern began to form after more shipments of elephant tusks were seized in Vietnam and Thailand in 2015. According to Freeland, a Bangkok-based counter- trafficking organisation, 32 tonnes of ivory, originating from East and West African ports, were seized in South-east Asia.

At an estimated US$2,000 (S$2,770) for a kilogram of elephant tusk, the seizures would have had a street value of $86 million.

They all led to one syndicate and Gakou Fodie, a suspected major smuggler involved in several cases, including the shipment of 6 tonnes of pangolin scales to Asia. An international cast of law enforcement and Customs agencies, including AVA and Freeland, went into overdrive.

Arrests were made in Africa last year and early this year, related to the seizures in Thailand and Vietnam. The behind-the-scenes cooperation, which also involved Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, culminated in the arrests of seven key players who were allegedly behind the shipment to Singapore.

And between April and this month, the authorities in Africa moved in on Fodie, arresting him near the Kenya-Uganda border before he was extradited just a few days ago to Tanzania, where the case against him is stronger.

In a telephone interview with The Straits Times, Mr Steven Galster, 55, founder of Freeland, commended AVA officials. "The Singapore officials were some of the first to say 'yes' to (the joint investigation). They did not need any prompting from us. They did that on their own."

Dr Chua Tze Hoong, group director of the Quarantine Inspection Group at AVA, said clamping down on illegal wildlife trafficking requires government agencies and non-governmental organisations to work together.

"Singapore seriously assesses intelligence reports or tip-offs from our partners.

"This has resulted in several seizures such as this case, in which the collaboration between countries and various parties contributed to the success of the operations," he said.

Poaching and smuggling of rhino horns, pangolin scales, wildcat skins and elephant tusks are driving wildlife populations down.

Some wildlife parts are used in traditional medicine while others like elephant tusks, when skilfully carved into decorations, can cost as much as US$300,000 each, said Mr Galster, who has seen high-end works in Beijing, China.

Part of the challenge is to get "transit and consumer" countries to step up.

Mr Galster said: "People are desensitised when they see these (wildlife shipment) seizures and they don't realise that these are the result of serial murder. It's a bunch of animals killed."

However, traffickers are known to be crafty. They would label a consignment of elephant tusks as coffee beans or tea leaves, said Mr Galster.

He added: "They (traffickers) may also change the country of origin by having containers shipped to one place first where they change the Bill of Lading to show the transit country is now country of origin. So a Customs officer in the receiving country would be less suspicious, not knowing the cargo originated in Africa."

In the end, it was the investigators' perseverance and advanced investigation trainingthat proved vital in bringing down the syndicate, said Mr Galster.

The investigators began to see more links to wildlife suppliers after using digital forensics software in their probe. Using raw data, the software analyses and spots trends and patterns.

The suspects arrested included a senior Kenyan Customs official, several shipping agents and high-level traffickers who played a role in smuggling the illegal consignment to Singapore. They are also linked to other wildlife crimes.

By the numbers

A rhinoceros is killed every seven hours, according to Freeland, a counter-trafficking organisation based in Bangkok.

Rhinoceros are prized for their horns and bones as they are used in traditional medicine or for decorative purposes.

Even more frequently, an elephant is killed every hour.

Each year, an estimated 20,000 elephants are killed for their tusks, which can fetch about US$2,000 (S$2,760) per kg in the black market.

Freeland founder Steven Galster told The Straits Times that trading in African elephant tusks is worth US$400 million a year.

A meeting of the United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Johannesburg last October reported that roughly 30 per cent of Africa's elephants have disappeared in the last seven years. Its population in 2016 was estimated at 473,000.

But the most threatened creature is the pangolin.

It is the most trafficked mammal, with over one million poached in the past decade.

Under Cites, all commercial trade in pangolins is banned.

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Indonesian police foil attempt to smuggle 200,000 lobster eggs into Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 12 Jun 17;

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities foiled an attempt to illegally export more than 200,000 lobster eggs into Singapore through Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, reported the Jakarta Post on Sunday (Jun 11).

The suspects had attempted to deliver a big part of the goods via a Garuda Indonesia flight to Singapore.

According to, Indonesia's National Police Special Crimes Directorate Chief Brigadier General Purwadi Arianto said: "We confiscated 208,756 lobster eggs inside eight suitcases."

If the smuggling attempt had been successful, state losses could have reached US$2.4 million, the official added.

Police are questioning two individuals identified as AM and WHY, according to the Jakarta Post. AM has been named a suspect in the case while WHY is being treated as a witness.

Police thwart attempt to smuggle 200k lobster eggs to Singapore
The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 17;

The National Police’s Special Crimes Directorate has foiled an attempt to illegally export lobster eggs worth billions of rupiah to Singapore via Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng, Banten.

“We confiscated 208,756 lobster eggs inside eight suitcases,” said directorate chief Brig. Gen. Purwadi Arianto as quoted by on Sunday.

Had the smuggling attempt been successful, state losses could have reached Rp 31.3 billion (US$ 2.4 million), Purwadi said, adding that the police had questioned two persons, identified as AM and WHY, in relation to the case.

AM was attempting to board a Garuda Indonesia flight to Singapore carrying 169,136 lobster eggs in six suitcases, while WHY took Lion Air flight departing from Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, carrying 39,620 lobster eggs to Soekarno-Hatta, from where he intended to continue traveling to Singapore.

From the police’s preliminary investigations, they suspect that AM ordered WHY to carry the lobster eggs. Police have named AM a suspect in the case, while WHY’s status so far remains that of a witness.

Besides lobster eggs, the police also confiscated one passport, two mobile phones, Rp 7.1 million and S$525 in cash, boarding passes and luggage claim tags.

AM is being charged with violating Law No. 31/2004 on fisheries, Law No. 16/1992 on quarantine, animals and plants and the Criminal Code.

The police in cooperation with other agencies, including customs, aviation security, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry’s National Fish Quarantine, Quality Control and Fishery Product Safety Agency (BKIPM), have released the lobster eggs on Carita Beach in Banten, keeping only 256 as evidence. (wnd/dmr)

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Malaysia: Crocodile myth boosting illegal trade

Compiled by RAHIMY RAHIM, NG SI HOOI and R. ARAVINTHAN The Star 12 Jun 17;

THE myth that crocodile parts boast aphrodisiac qualities has led to the illegal trading of the reptile, with some being sold for up to RM100,000 on the black market, Metro Ahad reported.

Based on an investigation by the Peninsular Malaysia Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), the current price of a crocodile is far more expensive than a tiger, as its scaly skin, meat, tail and even its gall bladder can be sold at lucrative prices.

Many still believe that crocodile teeth can be used as a good luck charm while its private parts can be an aphrodisiac, which makes the parts popular. In its latest operation, Perhilitan raided a place at Old Klang Road that traded crocodile organs.

During the raid, the team led by enforcement officer Celescoriano Razond found that the owner of the premises kept various crocodile organs believed to be acquired illegally.

“We confiscated six crocodile skulls and 24 completely preserved saltwater crocodiles. We also found a piece of crocodile skin, crocodile leather belt, and 10 handbags believed to be made from crocodile skin,” he said.

A total of 693 plastic bags of saltwater crocodile meat, 79 plastic bags of crocodile feet, eight bags of crocodile tail, and 190 plastic bags of dried crocodile meat were confiscated.

Apart from that, 24 gall bladders, 37 crocodile private parts, 350 crocodile teeth, and 12 keychains believed to made from saltwater crocodiles skin were also seized.

All of the items would be taken to the Perhilitan headquarters for further action, said Razond.

“We do not rule out the possibility that the items would have been smuggled to Hong Kong, Taiwan or China,” he said.

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