Photo by Eugene Wei / Creative Commons License
Stopping illegal wildlife trade is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so in 2011, our Office of Law Enforcement initiated “Operation Crash,” an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhino horns. If you are wondering why the operation has its name, “crash” is the term used to describe a group of rhinoceroses. Five years later, we are pleased to say that Operation Crash has been an enormous success, bringing numerous traffickers to justice and protecting rhinos in the process.
The significant impact of the operation has gained the people on the project accolades, and they have even been nominated this year for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, nicknamed a “Sammie.” The Sammies are the most prestigious awards for government employees, the “Oscars” of government service. Polls are now open to vote for the nominees.
Assets accumulated through illegal activities by convicted rhino horn smugglers in the United States are seized by agents when possible. In a 2012 case of a major rhino horn smuggler in California, the judge directed that the confiscated assets be used to help save rhinos in the wild through our Rhino Tiger Conservation Fund (RTCF). Established in 1994, the RTCF provides approximately $700,000-800,000 per year for on-the-ground conservation of African rhinos. The seizure in the California case yielded gold and jewelry worth more than $684,000, which were immediately sent to projects in Africa to save surviving rhinos.
The three projects that were supported with Operation Crash funds
- Using modern technology to protect Africa's and Asia’s rhinos: security and monitoring workshop
This grant convened technology developers and field practitioners – for the first time – to identify available tech tools that could be adapted or customized for rhino conservation activities in order to ensure that all African range states and rhino custodians have access to the best technology available to protect wild rhinos. For this project, we worked with Nambia’s Ministry of Environment and Technology and Save the Rhino International.
- Reintroduction of Black Rhinos to Sera Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
This grant assisted with the costs of establishing the first eastern black rhino reintroduction site on community-owned land in Kenya. The site has been fenced to include a closed rhino sanctuary of nearly 100 miles squared and received its first delivery of rhinos from other areas in Kenya in 2015. Fauna and Flora International worked on this project.
In March, the Sera Community Rhino Sanctuary celebrated its first black rhino birth. According to a press release distributed by the Northern Rangelands Trust, “This is the first black rhino to be born on community land in northern Kenya for over 25 years, and demonstrates the strength of the growing community conservation movement. The calf also represents the community’s hopes that the Sanctuary can nurture a viable breeding population of black rhino; that could eventually help repopulate other community conservation areas.”
- Black rhino population monitoring and protection management operations in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
This grant fortified protection of the North Luangwa ecosystem for the protection of Zambia's only black rhino population. The Frankfurt Zoological Society also worked on this project.
We cannot bring the rhinos whose horns are being traded illegally back to life, but thanks to the USFWS special agents who worked on the Operation Crash team, wildlife traffickers have been apprehended and sentenced to prison. Although countless rhinos have been slaughtered for the illegal horn trade, the efforts by the Crash agents to redirect illegal proceeds to conservation projects in Africa will hopefully support the survival of those remaining rhinos in the wild.