Record haul of wildlife crime
Thanks to a few attentive customs officials one of the most serious cases ever of illegal trading in animals was revealed this summer in the Netherlands. In business premises in the province of Noord- Brabant more than 2,000 kilos of coral, snake and monitor lizard skins, skulls of tortoises and ivory jewels were found. The financial value of the banned merchandise amounts to hundreds of thousand euros, while the damage to nature and the environment cannot be expressed in figures.
The case emerged when customs officials in the Rotterdam port discovered a container from China during a regular inspection. This container included a large lot of counterfeit items, but also a pile of boxes with in total 345 kilos of coral. Coral is listed on the CITES list (see box) of endangered species of plants and animals which may not be traded freely. If you want to import coral you need a permit, but there were no official papers with this shipment. This is why Customs NL called in the Environmental Team of the police through the public prosecutor, which eventually found a wholesale company in precious stones and minerals in Berghem.
In mid-August the police, Customs and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) carried out a search in the showroom and storage warehouses of the company. Hereby such a large quantity of banned merchandise was found that the collaborating bodies needed three full days to list all material and transfer it to a customs depot at the Maasvlakte for further examination. Photos of rows of confiscated crocodile heads, monkey skeletons and stuffed tropical birds were published in almost all national newspapers.
Beside the morbid collector’s items and ‘decorative interior features’, thousands of counterfeit items were removed. Moreover, half a million of euros in cash and gold were found in a number of safes at the business site. This was also seized, on the suspicion of money laundering. The investigation against the owner of the company is still in progress.
In 1975 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (abbreviated as: CITES) was held in Washington. The regulations that were agreed there form the basis of the worldwide cooperation to combat commercial trade in endangered species of plants and animals. The trade in endangered species is completely forbidden; the trade in less endangered species of plants and animals is only allowed when the authorities in question have issued special CITES documents.
The Dutch regulations in this area are included in the national Flora and Fauna Act. This act stipulates, amongst others, which endemic and exotic species of plants and animals are considered as endangered and includes a ban to possess, transport and trade them. Furthermore, the act stipulates that an exemption can be granted by the Minister of Economic Affairs in a few exceptional situations.
The supervision by Customs mainly focuses on importing and exporting (in relation to the Dutch territory) protected endemic and exotic species of plants and animals (and products made of these plants and animals, for example, items made of ivory or coral). This supervision is mainly carried out at the external border when the items are imported.