Sting Investigation Captures Notorious Animal Smuggler

AWI Quarterly Fall/Winter1998-1999: Wildlife

A five-year long sting investigation, dubbed"Operation Chameleon," has resulted in the capture ofone of the world's most notorious animal smugglers, Keng Liang"Anson" Wong. Wong is thought to be responsible for smuggling more than 300 animals from Asia intothe United States.

It took the cooperation of multipleinternational law enforcement agencies and the creation of a phonyimport/export company to finally bring down the smuggling kingpin.To break the infamous ring, United States Fish and Wildlife Services(USFWS) agents in San Francisco created PacRim Enterprises. Functioningas a front for Operation Chameleon, PacRim purportedly dealt inimported animals, but in actuality was staffed by undercover agents.

According to the indictment against Wong, USFWS agents cultivatedbusiness contacts with Wong in order to track the illegal movementsof endangered animals into the Us. Consequently, the reverse flowof money was traced back into Wong's pocket. "He's been oneof the most flagrant smugglers out there," said Lois J. Schiffer,the assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources."We're sending a message today: We will do whatever it takesto shut down the black market in endangered species."

Wong was apprehended during a trip to Mexico City wherehe was supposed to meet with a federal agent posing as a crookedbusinessman.

Among the 39 species of endangered animals trafficked by Wong'sgang were Chinese crocodile lizards, Bengal monitor lizards, plowshareand radiated tortoises native to Madagascar and Komodo dragonsfrom Indonesia. The animals were frequently transported in carry-onluggage, Federal Express packages, or hidden among shipments oflegally imported animals. Many of the animals died during theirtransport to the US; survivors will be kept as evidence for thecase. Officials said that most of the animals will not be ableto be returned to the wild and will probably wind up in zoos afterthe legal proceedings end.

Operation Chameleon was an international effort conducted withthe cooperation of the US Customs Agency, the USFWS, the Mexicanattorney general's office, Interpol and the Royal Canadian MountedPolice.

Considered to be one of the most brazen animal smugglers, Wongoperated from his zoo-like Malaysian home compound stocked withexotic cats, birds and reptiles. He has been on the ran from USagents since fleeing the country after being indicted for operatinga similar smuggling ring in Florida.

Among the animals seized in Operation Chameleonwas this baby Kornodo dragon from Indonesia and these MadagascarRadiated tortoises.


CHINESESE1ZE SMUGGLED IVORY

Chinese authorities have recently steppedup their efforts to stop the smuggling of endangered animal productsinto China. Smuggling in China is a multi-billion dollar businessdominated by China's powerful military.

In November their crackdown paid off. Customs officials seized1.6 tons of illegal African ivory hidden among legally importedAfrican wild ox horns.

Although China is a signatory country to the Convention onInternational Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES), it remains one of the leading consumers of products madefrom endangered species.


TAIWANPASSES ANIMAL PROTECTION LAW

In October, the Legislative Yuan voted tohelp animals by enacting Taiwan's first animal protective legislation.Major points covered in the new law are the prohibition of usinganimals for gaming purposes, provisions for humane slaughter,the establishment of an Ethics Committee to oversee the use oflaboratory animals, mandatory registration of pets, and regulationsgoverning pet shops and breeders. Violators of the law are subjectto hefty fines.


 ZHABA DUOJIE – PROTECTOR, MARTYR

The Tibetan antelope's most fervent protector was gunned down on November 8th near his home in the western province of Qinghai, China. Poachers are believed to be responsible for Zhaba Duojie's murder.

Doujie, an ethnic Tibetan, managed the Gyaisang Soinamdaje wildlife protection center; home to some of the world's most endangered mammals, including the Tibetan antelope and snow leopard. Located in one of China's most remote areas, the center was named for Doujie's predecessor who, four years ago, was also murdered by poachers.

The Tibetan antelope is prized for the fur around its throat, known as a shahtoosh. Although it has been illegal to trade shahtoosh in much of the world since 1976, a shahtoosh shawl will fetch more than $15,000 in Europe.

Only 75,000 to 100,000 Tibetan antelope still exist, and as many as 20,000 a year are killed by poachers.


MAJOR BUST INBEAR PARTS TRADE

A three year investigation between the VirginiaDepartment of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service has resulted in the arrests of 25 individualsfrom Virginia, West Virginia and New Mexico for over 100 wildlifeviolations regarding trade in bear parts and products, includingjewelry made from claws, paws for expensive Soups, and gallbladdersfor use in traditional medicine. The Department expects this case"to yield one of the largest prosecutions in the nation'shistory for crimes relating to bear poaching and illegal tradein bear parts."


PEERFinds Dissension in USFWS Ranks

Despite the successful sting reported onpage 12, many Special Agents within the US Fish and WildlifeService (USFWS) report that criminal investigations are ofteninterfered with by agency managers and that agency decision makingis influenced by politics. This is according to a national surveyreleased by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility(PEER).

USFWS Special Agents enforce the Endangered Species Act, theFacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and all other federalhunting and wildlife interstate transportation laws. Of the roughly200 USFWS Special Agents nationwide, more than 60 percent respondedto the PEER survey.

Over half the respondents related firsthand experiences of managers who interfered with an investigationin order to protect a prominent individual or powerful group.Eighty-one percent said agency managers have often "injectedpolitical considerations into what should be strictly law enforcementdecisions" and that hunting groups exercise disproportionateinfluence over agency decision making. Only five percent of agentsthink that USFWS law enforcement is improving while 74 percentthink it is getting worse. The state of affairs at USFWS was summedup by one survey respondent who commented, "This divisionhas gone from agents who believe in protecting the resources toagents protecting themselves."

The US Fish and Wildlife Service isadministered under the auspices of the United States Departmentof the Interior.


AGrizzly Business

by Craig Bennett

Grizzly bears in British Columbia are being pushed towardsextinction because of trophy hunting and massive habitat lossdue to logging the forest. "Unless steps are taken now toconserve grizzly bear populations in British Columbia (BC), thisanimal could disappear from our landscape forever." Theseare the words of the British Columbia Government in the introductionto its "Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy." It waspublished in June 1995, and yet, over three years later,the most important measures contained within the strategy arestill a very long way from being implemented and grizzly bearsface a critically uncertain future.

As far back as the 1970s, conservationbiologists were warning that the BC grizzly bear population wasbeing over-hunted. In 1979, the BC Government promised to reducethe hunting quota to 200 grizzlies a year, but the promise wasnever delivered. Then, in 1990, came two shocking reports, oneby the BC Government's own Wildlife Branch, the other by the Committeeon the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, a Federal Governmentagency. Both found that the annual allowable hunt had been exceededin large parts of the province during the 80s.

The BC Government promised to reduce grizzly bear mortalityfrom all sources to four percent of the provincial population.However, to do this the BC Government did not reduce the actualnumber of kills, but brought in a new methodology for estimatinggrizzly bear populations. It led to a near doubling of the officialpopulation estimates for the province overnight, from 6-8,000to 10-13,000 bears.

The new methodology, which is still in use today, is basedon an assessment of how many bears an area could potentially support,not how many bears actually live in an area. The estimates thatare produced from this exercise are not backedup by any meaningful field checks of actual populations. It ismerely left to local government biologists to make what even theMinistry has admitted are 'best-guesses' about what is actuallyhappening to grizzly bear populations, and to adjust the estimatesaccordingly.

Despite the promises made in 1979 and 1990, the 1996 hunt wasone of the largest in twenty years with 363 grizzlies legallykilled. Long-term studies of radio-collared bears suggest thatunreported kills may equal reported kills. As logging, mining,roads and railways open up access to bear habitat, so these 'unplannedkills' are likely to increase. And yet, the BC Government continuesto do nothing, despite its acknowledgment of the threats facedby grizzlies.

Environment and conservation groups are certain that nothingshort of a complete moratorium on the hunting of grizzlies willbe enough. Only a moratorium will provide time for a comprehensivesurvey of bear populations and for habitat protection measuresto be implemented. The BC Government must accept its responsibilityfor the conservation of these magnificent animals and act immediately.

A Canadian grizzly bear enjoys a breezeas warm sunshine beam down upon his face.

ACTION: PLEASE WRITETO BRITISH COLUMBIA'S PREMIER URGING HIM TO
INTRODUCE A MORATORIUM ON GRIZZLY BEAR HUNTING IN THE PROVINCE.

PREMIER GLEN CLARK,OFFICE OF THE PREMIER
WEST ANNEX, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
VICTORIA BC V8V 1X4, CANADA

Craig Bennett co-authored FIA's report,Trigger Happy.

 IF YOU WOULD LIKE A COPY OF THE EIA REPORT, TRIGGER HAPPY, DOCUMENTING THE STATUS OF THE GRIZZLY IN BRITISH COLUMIA, PLEASE CONTACT; EIA, 69-85 OLD STREET, LONDON, EC1V9HX, ENGLAND, EIAUK@GN.APC.ORG

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