Wildlife Inspectors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are the Nation's front-line defense against the illegal wildlife trade -- a criminal enterprise that threatens species worldwide. These professional import-export control officers ensure that wildlife shipments comply with U.S. and international wildlife protection laws.
Stationed at the Nation's major international airports, ocean ports, and border crossings, Wildlife Inspectors monitor an annual trade worth more than $2.8 billion. They stop illegal shipments, intercept smuggled wildlife and wildlife products, and help the United States fulfill its commitment to global wildlife conservation.
The United States is one of the world's largest markets for wildlife and wildlife products. High-volume "live" traffic includes exotic reptiles, tropical fish, and primates. Manufactured products (such as boots, shoes, purses, jewelry, caviar, and meats) and less "processed" wildlife items (such as hunting trophies, feathers, furs, skins, raw coral, and shells) are also common.
Wildlife Inspectors must understand and enforce a range of U. S. and international laws, regulations, and treaties that protect wildlife and limit commercial traffic in endangered animals and plants. They must be able to identify thousands of different species, both live and as "parts" or products.
Wildlife Inspectors clear legal imports and exports and stop shipments that violate the law. They make sure that wildlife imports and exports are accompanied by the required permits and licenses, and verify that the contents of shipments match the items listed on declaration forms. They pay special attention to live wildlife, checking to see that animals in transit are treated humanely.
Although Wildlife Inspectors spend most of their time processing commercial cargo shipments, they also keep tabs on international passenger traffic. Unwary travelers all too often return from abroad with illegal wildlife souvenirs. Many smuggling rings use human couriers; inspectors find protected animals hidden in clothing and stuffed in suitcases and handbags.
Wildlife Inspectors work closely with Service Special Agents and counterparts from Customs and Border Protection and other Federal agencies that police international trade. They staff special enforcement task forces that conduct inspection blitzes at international mail processing facilities, or target specific enforcement problems, such as the import and sale of medicinal products made from endangered species.
Outreach is also an important part of the job. Wildlife Inspectors meet with customs brokers, trade associations, international travelers, and hunters going abroad to explain wildlife import/export rules and regulations. They are popular guest speakers at schools, nature centers, community conservation programs, and environmental fairs.