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Tuesday
Nov022010

INTERPOL’s Operation RAMP targets illegal reptile trade

The illicit trade in reptiles came was targetted during a two-month INTERPOL operation Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Lyon, France, 2nd November 2010—A worldwide operation co-ordinated by INTERPOL in 51 countries across five continents targetted the illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians and resulted in many arrests and the seizure of thousands of animals and illicit products worth more than EUR25 million.

Operation RAMP ran from September–October and involved national wildlife enforcement authorities, including police, Customs and specialized units from participating countries.

The Operation focused particularly on illegal activities relating to the trade and possession of endangered reptiles and investigations were carried out on individuals and companies as well as inspections of premises such as seaports and wholesalers.

INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme unit acted as a key operational communications and intelligence centre during the two-month operation, facilitating the exchange of information between the participating enforcement agencies.

“Our goal in Operation RAMP was to detect and apprehend suspected wildlife criminals, whilst also furthering co-operation and collaboration between agencies and countries in an effort to enhance the fight against organized environmental crime,” said Bernd Rossbach, Director of INTERPOL’s Specialized Crime unit.

“While investigations will continue well beyond the conclusion of Operation RAMP, this operation has shown what the international law enforcement community can collaboratively achieve against suspected environmental criminals and their networks.

“The success of this operation would not have been possible without the close co-operation and dedication of the police, customs, wildlife law enforcement agencies and specialized units in all of the participating countries.”

John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), who was briefed on the results of the operation during a visit to INTERPOL headquarters on Tuesday, said "The fact that INTERPOL helps co-ordinate such worldwide operations illustrates the level of serious criminality that is now commonly linked to illegal trade in wildlife.

“I congratulate all the national agencies that participated in Operation RAMP, and the INTERPOL officers here in Lyon who supported them. Such operations reinforce the very close working relationship that exists between CITES and INTERPOL."

Illegal international trade in reptiles is a serious threat to species such as tortoises which are highly prized as pets. There have been a number of recent high profile cases involving illicit trade in reptiles, including two seizures a month apart of hundreds of Malagasy tortoises found in luggage by Customs officers in Malaysia and the arrest and subsequent conviction of notorious wildlife trader Anson Wong, also in Malaysia.

The issue of wild-caught reptiles being mis-declared as captive-bred to enable their export from Asia into the European Union was examined in a recent TRAFFIC report for the European Commission (PDF, 340 KB), and the issue of how to tell the origins of reptiles in trade was the subject of a joint UK Border Agency (UKBA)–TRAFFIC Europe workshop for enforcement officers across the EU earlier this year.

Operation RAMP is the second global operation led by INTERPOL against wildlife crime, and results to date have exceeded those of its predecessor, Operation TRAM (February 2010), which targeted the illegal trade in traditional medicines containing wildlife products and resulted in the seizure of products worth more than EUR10 million.

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