Friday, December 28, 2012

Best of 2012: 6) Safeguarding wildlife without borders

We're bringing in the new year with a look back at our milestones for 2012. Check back each day for featured events and activities from across the Northeast!

While the bird that sits on a rhino's back and cleans it of ticks and other insects is called the oxpecker, it's sometimes referred to as the “rhino’s guard.”

Black rhino male and calf in Mkhuze, South Africa.
The black rhino, as well as the Sumatran, Javan and Indian rhinos,
is protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and listed from critically
endangered to vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The only other species of rhino surviving
in the wild, the (southern and northern) white rhino, is listed on the Red List,
but only the northern white rhino is protected under the ESA.
Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS.

With poaching on the rise, the rhino needs more than these birds to protect it. And in February 2012, a major national U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undercover law enforcement effort answered the call.

More than 150 Service special agents and refuge officers, with Homeland Security Investigations agents, Internal Revenue Service agents and state conservation officers, arrested seven people in Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., and New York, and executed 13 search warrants as part of Operation Crash, a multi-agency effort to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.

Evidence seized by Service special agents during searches related to Los Angeles defendants in Operation Crash. Items shown include rhino horns and parts. Credit: USFWS.

These members of an alleged organized crime ring trafficking in rhino horn were arrested and charged with conspiracy and violations of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act for purchasing rhino horns from various suppliers in the U.S. In coordinated raids in five states, agents seized 37 rhinoceros horns and products made from horns such as dagger handles and libation cups. Also seized during the course of the operation were approximately $1 million in cash and another $1 million in gold ingots, as well as diamonds and Rolex watches.

Law enforcement efforts are one part of the Service’s coordinated efforts to ensure the future of rhinos in the wild. Through the agency's Wildlife Without Borders Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, the Service provides grants throughout Africa and Asia to groups and governments seeking to protect and recover rhino populations.

Funding has supported anti-poaching teams, provided training and equipment for game wardens and investigators, fostered reintroductions to habitat where rhinos have gone extinct, and developed conservation education and outreach for people living near the rhino habitats.

Rising global demand for rhino horn – both for alleged medicinal value and ornamental use – has led to an epidemic of poaching in Africa, as well as theft and illegal trade in rhino horns from museums and private collections. Illegal trafficking in rhino horn threatens to reverse decades of rhino conservation work in Africa and Asia, driving rhinos to the brink of extinction in the wild.

Law enforcement operations will continue in the U.S. and abroad, as the Service works with Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and international law enforcement agencies to target and arrest poachers and smugglers for years to come. More on Operation Crash.

Read more law enforcement posts.

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