Three huge hauls of illegal wildlife products were seized by Vietnam customs between April and August last year: two in Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi, and one at Tien Sa Seaport, Da Nang. Combined, the smuggled items in these cases constitute well over 100 dead elephants and about 30 slaughtered rhinos.
And that’s just three cases. Imagine the multitude of containers, bags, and boxes stuffed with illegal wildlife parts that cross international borders undetected every day. Interpol estimates that seizures represent just 10% of the total underground trade, meaning that the tusks and horns seized in these three busts in Vietnam are just a small, visible fragment of the 1,000 elephants and 300 rhinos that were being slaughtered, smuggled and sold at the exact same time.
The three cases originated in, and transferred through, a variety of countries including France, Malaysia, Mozambique and South Korea, often with unknown end destinations. It’s clear that the criminal networks conducting illegal wildlife trade are well organized and truly transnational, which is why the defence against them must be equally so.
Last January, a Wildlife Friendly Skies (WFS) training workshop was held for 73 airport officials at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport to enhance their ability to detect and prevent the smuggling of animals and their parts through airports. The Wildlife Friendly Skies training highlighted flight routes connecting Vietnam to other wildlife source, transit and consumer countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Piloted and implemented by Freeland, WFS workshops feature real case studies from law enforcement and wildlife experts to illustrate the scale and seriousness of wildlife smuggling. Trainers also provide tips on how to profile traffickers, spot signs of different smuggling methods, and tools to identify wildlife species and products.
Following the success of the training, the Northern Airport Authority of Vietnam requested and paid for another WFS event for over 200 participants, demonstrating the importance placed on counter-wildlife trafficking by both governments and the private sector. The second training was held in May, and was attended by airport staff from customs, cargo handling, quarantine services and other departments.
During April, when one of the aforementioned seizures was made – of 65kg of ivory and rhino horn smuggled from France to Noi Bai airport via Vietnam Airlines – over 100 Vietnamese-language WFS training handbooks had been distributed to employees at Noi Bai International Airport and Vietnam Airlines.
So far WFS training has reached over 600 transport staff in China, Thailand, Kenya and Vietnam, with more workshops planned in strategic wildlife trafficking hubs in this coming year.
Being familiar with the methods, means and scale at which illegal wildlife smuggling operates is essential for transport industry staff, as they man multiple points at which these criminals can be caught. Everyone from check in staff, to cargo handlers, to security personnel can look for clues of contraband from endangered species. With heightened awareness and refined skills, the combined force of front-line transport industry staff is a crucial weapon in the fight to stop wildlife trafficking, and keep our skies wildlife friendly.