Christine Eustis / FWS
00-974-346-5006 (in Doha, Qatar)
Tamara Ward / FWS
Doha, Qatar – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Justice were awarded the Animal Welfare Institute’s prestigious Clark R. Bavin Law Enforcement Award at a reception sponsored by the Species Survival Network for their highly successful, multi-year (2004-2010) undercover investigation of unlawful international trafficking in sea turtle parts and products. The award was presented by Mr. Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), at a reception during the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) in Doha, Qatar.
Operation Central, as the investigation was named, stands as the largest probe ever of the unlawful commercial exploitation of highly endangered sea turtles – all of which are listed under Appendix I of CITES which bans international trade. Operation Central was planned and designed to infiltrate two widely active segments of the black market wildlife trade – sea turtle skin and skin products moving illegally from Mexico to the United States and sea turtle shell and shell products being smuggled to the United States from China. The investigation also documented the role of U.S. retailers in the unlawful commercial exploitation of other CITES-listed species (including caimans and lizards) in the exotic boot trade. The government of Mexico coordinated enforcement activities with the Fish and Wildlife Service that also resulted in arrests in Mexico.
“I have asked Benito Perez, Chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement to accept this award on behalf of the wildlife special agents and U.S. Justice attorneys who worked tirelessly to uncover and prosecute these criminals, “said Jane Lyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and head of the U.S. CITES delegation. “These dedicated public servants secured the evidence needed to document crimes that ranged from wildlife take and trade violations to smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy – evidence that provided the basis for multiple felony indictments and convictions.”
Operation Central documented the smuggling of more than $1 million worth of sea turtle parts and products into the United States. The seven defendants arrested at the time of takedown all pleaded guilty to felony violations and served Federal prison sentences of up to two years. Prosecutions of 19 additional defendants in the United States are still in progress and are expected to be completed during 2010.
“The national and international coordination required to successfully implement Operation Central should be a model for countries around the world that combat wildlife crime,” said Cathy Liss, President of the Animal Welfare Institute. “One can only hope that the success of Operation Central can spread like wild fire around the world so that illicit international wildlife trade can be eliminated to protect the world’s wildlife.”
The Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Awards are named in memory of the late Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement, who pioneered the agency's highly effective use of covert investigations and "sting" operations to uncover illegal wildlife trade. The awards have traditionally been presented by the Secretary-General of CITES during meetings of the Conference of the Parties.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visit us at www.fws.gov. For further information about the U.S. CITES delegation and its work at CoP15, visit the website at www.uscites.gov.