At an international meeting focused on wildlife trade regulations across the world, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents and a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) trial attorney were honored for their commitment to helping keep the trade legal.
During a reception at the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama City, Panama, Special Agents Paul Montuori and Ryan Bessey with the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and Senior Trial Attorney Ryan Connors with DOJ were each awarded a Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award, presented annually to a selection of courageous individuals who have gone beyond the call of duty in their commitment to combating wildlife crime.
The awards were presented on Tuesday, November 15, during a reception hosted by the Animal Welfare Institute and the Species Survival Network.
Bessey and Connors were nominated for a Clark R. Bavin Award as a team by the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles — a multi-agency partnership based in the U.S. — for their combined efforts to dismantle a North American turtle smuggling operation. The investigation, Operation Common Denominator, resulted in the arrest and successful prosecution of U.S. and Chinese nationals who trafficked thousands of CITES-listed turtle species, resulting in prison time and substantial fines.
In addition to their dedication to bringing turtle traffickers to justice, Bessey and Connors have demonstrated a commitment to sharing knowledge with other law enforcement officials through presentations, workshops, and trainings to help increase the successful investigation and prosecution of those who exploit vulnerable wildlife for personal gain. Their ongoing collaboration demonstrates how teamwork is essential in combatting wildlife crime.
Service Special Agent Paul Montuori was recognized with a Clark R. Bavin Award for a diversity of successful wildlife criminal investigations throughout his career. His efforts to combat wildlife crime have led to the arrest and successful prosecutions of individuals and organizations engaged in the illicit trafficking of orangutans, elephants, pangolins, hornbills, reptiles, scorpions, tarantulas, sharks, and other wildlife parts and products protected by CITES and the Endangered Species Act.
Montuori has also collaborated with defense attorneys, prosecutors, and members of academia to promote opportunities for offenders to repair the harm caused by their actions through restorative justice, which can have a positive impact on affected communities and offenders. He goes above and beyond by fostering new conservation partnerships within his community as well.
Service Director Martha Williams accepted the award — a sculpture of a jaguar mounted on a burlwood base — on behalf of Montuori, and Senior Wildlife Inspectors Rhyan Tompkins and Jennifer Irving accepted the awards on behalf of Bessey and Connors.
The Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award has been bestowed upon law enforcement officers, prosecutors, national and international investigative teams, and nongovernmental organization representatives from nearly 30 countries.
The award was named in honor of the Clark R. Bavin, a pioneer in wildlife law enforcement for the Service. His far-sightedness and willingness to use novel yet complex sting operations to catch wildlife smugglers was ahead of its time and a model for today's wildlife crime fighters.