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  1. #1
    BPnet Veteran Ax01's Avatar
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    Busted By Operation Blizzard!

    before i even owned my own reptiles, i used to read about and see reptile smugglers in the news every now and then. the guy smuggling reptiles in his pants became the butt of many late night tv talk shows and wacky wierd news headlines. i used to laugh at it as well and wonder why peeps would do such a thing. like what excuses do u have when u get caught? doesn't it tickle u to have a snake in your pants? isn't it dangerous to the animal(s)? is the trouble and money worth it? well i guess so b/c an international coordinated investigation code named Operation Blizzard arrested a buncha perps and seized over 4,000 live reptiles across multiple countries and continents.

    reading the article, i was surprised to see a species as basic as a KSB being smuggled and mentioned. 6 total! i could see how a wealthy collector would want something like a Spider-Tailed Viper from Iran, but a KSB? i do not know the full CITES list but i guess in some markets/countries/states/provinces/etc., they must be restricted to have to be smuggled in and available on the black market. one article i read framed the story not as a collecting and breeding thing, but as a fashion issue and demand. like reptile skins being used for fashion. i would like to see more data and breakdown of the 4,000 animals seized and where, etc. i think the overall data would be very interesting. the illegal reptile trade is seems to be lucrative and there are various forces driving it.

    anyways on to the article:
    4,000 live reptiles rescued in biggest global raid of its kind
    Police nabbed suspected traffickers in airports, breeding centers, and pet stores across 22 countries.

    GLOBAL POLICE FORCES have carried off the largest reptile trade bust to date, arresting 12 suspects and seizing more than 4,000 live reptiles at airports, breeding facilities, and pet stores across Europe, North America, and elsewhere throughout April and May.

    The initiative, dubbed Operation Blizzard—a play on words referring to the deluge of activity around lizards—was coordinated by Interpol and Europol in response to the illegal trade in snakes, turtles, and other protected reptiles. Trafficking of these animals is threatening some species with extinction and also fueling disease outbreaks among humans.

    The exotic reptile trade has exploded in the past two decades, with millions of the animals now imported—legally and illegally—into the European Union and United States as household pets. Some reptiles are also coveted for their skins, made into high-end fashion items such as shoes, belts, and handbags.

    Few protections exist for reptiles: Only about 8 percent of the roughly 10,000 species are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the international treaty that regulates the commercial trade of wildlife across national borders.

    As part of Operation Blizzard, law enforcement agencies in 22 countries—including New Zealand, Italy, Spain, South Africa, and the U.S.—scoured intelligence reports, cross-referenced earlier cases, monitored social media, and conducted targeted inspections of breeding facilities, says Sergio Tirro, a project manager for environmental crime at Europol who helped collect intelligence for the operation. Sharing intel across borders allowed them to identify more than 180 suspects.

    “This operation clearly demonstrates the value of international cooperation” says Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor, a nonprofit organization in British Columbia, Canada, dedicated to combating illegal wildlife trade. “It also illustrates the scale of this massive and well-organized trade.”

    Six arrests have already been made in Italy and another six in Spain, with further arrests and prosecutions expected, according to a statement from Interpol. In one case, according to Europol, an airline passenger had 75 live turtles in his luggage without any of the required paperwork.

    “Generally, our main target is a not a single passenger or individual—our focus is organized crime groups behind the illegal trade,” Tirro says. Still, many of the individuals identified were small-scale participants rather than organized crime leaders, he notes, adding that law enforcement hopes this work will help them build cases against top-tier people who are coordinating the illegal trade.

    The seizures included more than 20 crocodiles and alligators, six Kenyan sand boa snakes found in air cargo in the U.S., and 150 items made from reptile skins—including handbags, watchstraps, traditional medicines, and taxidermied products. Although the main focus of the operation was on reptiles, law enforcement also nabbed other animals and wildlife products: live owls, falcons, swans, elephant ivory, bushmeat.

    Nine reptiles being smuggled from Washington State into British Columbia were seized in Canada, says Sheldon Jordan, who heads up the wildlife crime unit of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Three of those animals had died in transit, underscoring how deadly the illegal wildlife trade can be, he says. Operation Blizzard was conducted at this time of year because most reptile trading in the northern hemisphere takes place during the spring and summer months, when these cold-blooded animals are more likely to stay warm enough to survive, Jordan says.

    Seizing 4,000 reptiles is significant, Shepherd notes, but “there are millions of reptiles being illegally traded every year,” and the market for these creatures keeps growing. Dismantling the well-organized networks that orchestrate the reptile trade and working with the countries where these animals are stolen from the wild, he says, are essential.
    more here:
    Operation Blizzard reveals information about illegal reptile trade

    Python skin handbags, crocodile watchstraps, and traditional medicines containing turtles have been seized in New Zealand as part of an international operation against the illegal trade in reptiles.

    Globally the operation, code named Operation Blizzard, has seen thousands of seizures and almost 200 suspects in illegal trade identified through coordinated sharing of information between participating countries.

    Targeting the criminals and networks behind the illegal global trade in reptiles, Operation Blizzard (12 April to 22 May) involved agencies from 22 countries and resulted in seizures ranging from live animals to high-end fashion products.

    Within New Zealand, Department of Conservation staff inspected legally permitted reptile holders and traders, audited shipments of reptile leather products crossing the border, and assisted Customs and Ministry of Primary Industries staff in identifying and seizing reptile products at airports and the International Mail Centre.

    The intelligence generated and shared with other countries has resulting in the launch of investigations into the illegal holding, selling, and import and export of reptiles – including endangered native New Zealand geckos.

    “Our geckos can be quite popular pets oversea, because they are such a unique and rare species,” says DOC Principal Compliance Officer Dylan Swain.

    “True animal lovers would never take part in this black market. As well as damaging wild populations, the conditions in which these lizards are transported for illegal trade can be appalling. Very few of them survive in the process.

    “Sharing information with key agencies overseas and getting information from local holders of exotic and native reptiles has been instrumental in opening a number of new investigations into the illegal trade in reptiles and reptile products.

    “Operation Blizzard is just the start of a renewed international focus on the illegal reptile trade,” Dylan Swain adds.

    Operation Blizzard was jointly coordinated by INTERPOL and Europol to enhance international efforts in tackling the illegal trade in reptiles. Member countries of the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group developed the operation based on the growing need to share and collaborate on organized crime groups trading in live reptiles and reptile products.

    Internationally, the operation has so far led to over 4,500 of seizures and the identification of important suspects, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide. Further arrests and prosecutions are anticipated as investigations continue.

    “The illegal trade in reptiles has close associations with organised crime – Operation Blizzard sends a clear message to criminals that the law enforcement community is homing in on them,” added Daoming Zhang, INTERPOL’s Assistant Director in charge of Environmental Security.

    “Operation Blizzard clearly demonstrates that by pooling our enforcement and intelligence resources, the global enforcement community firmly contributes to disrupting this destructive trade in reptiles. This operation is testimony to what can be achieved if we all work together.”

    The results of the operation will continue to be analysed globally to generate further intelligence for use in future national, regional and international law enforcement efforts. DOC staff are currently following leads, interviewing suspects, and sharing intelligence with foreign authorities which may result in the prosecution of individuals and companies in New Zealand.
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  3. #2
    Registered User Bogertophis's Avatar
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    Whether by individuals or groups, I really hate that people do this stuff: many are endangered animals taken this way that don't even survive because of the stupid
    ways they are transported -yes, like under people's clothing ...& for what? Wild-caught imports sent legally have a hard enough time surviving the stress &
    conditions of shipping, but imagine when they're stuffed into carry-ons & clothing.
    Many friends in low places...

  4. #3
    BPnet Veteran Ax01's Avatar
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    very good and interesting article about the reptile trade and Hamm. the article doesn't get everything right, but IMO makes a good point on the illegal trade, loopholes and how the hobby can turn itself into enablers.

    The world’s biggest reptile fair is also a hub for traffickers

    -- On June 1, a quarterly event in Germany which touts itself as the largest reptile trade show in the world, will again sell tens of thousands of reptiles.
    -- The fair, referred to as “Hamm”, is a meeting point for aficionados seeking the rarest and best reptiles, including animals that are threatened with extinction and may have been poached from the wild.
    -- Conservationists criticize the fair saying that it is the biggest hub for the legal and illegal trade in reptiles in the world.
    -- While national laws protect many of the reptile species, legal loopholes allow the trade to persist.

    HAMM, Germany — Two hours before the fair opens on a cold day in March, hundreds of people are already queuing in the cold. “The best merchandise is sold in the morning,” a shivering woman explains outside. She’s looking to expand her collection of exotic pet centipedes, and the Terraristika reptile fair in the German city of Hamm is the perfect place to do so. “You’ll find everything you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” she says.

    Styrofoam boxes loaded on dollies are pushed past the queue and inside the steamy warehouse, where some of the world’s most prolific wildlife breeders and traders are getting ready to sell tens of thousands of not just reptiles like snakes and lizards but also spiders, centipedes, insects and frogs.

    The fair itself is simply referred to as “Hamm,” after the nondescript town in the middle of Germany’s rust belt where it’s held four times a year. Touting itself as the largest reptile trade show in the world, it’s a bazaar brimming with more than 550 sellers who set up shop, reptile-enthusiasts and specialized transport companies that pick the animals up and drive them back to their clients in countries like the U.K. Some have come from as far as South Korea and the U.S., pushing past Indian giant tiger centipedes (Scolopendra hardwickei), which cost $550 a piece, and common pythons on offer as a “buy 2 get 3” deal.

    For buyers, sellers and middlemen, Hamm is the pinnacle of a growing international trade worth millions of dollars annually, and a meeting point for aficionados seeking the rarest and best “merchandise,” as the animals are referred to, from Chinese crocodile lizards (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) to manabi bird-eater tarantulas (Pamphobeteus sp. mascara) and beetles belonging to the scarab family (Scarabaeidae).

    For conservationists, however, Hamm is something else: the biggest real-life marketplace for reptile traffickers who have learned to exploit the European Union’s weak laws and lack of enforcement to sell high-value, endangered, and protected species.

    “The things that are being sold there, you can’t even imagine,” says biologist Sandra Altherr, who co-founded the German conservation group Pro Wildlife. “There are lots of reptiles that are protected, and they are being sold freely at Hamm.”

    Snakes in the parking lot
    Hours before the fair officially opens, the parking lot of the nearby Cafe del Sol is bustling. Because not every seller pays for a stall, merchandise is also traded online — often on Facebook groups, despite Facebook’s ban on trading live animals — and exchanged in the parking lot.

    Phones keep buzzing as buyers and sellers seek out each other. “Where are you? I’m wearing a red backpack,” a middle-aged man with a southern German accent says. “Look for someone Chinese, that’s me,” another buyer describes himself.

    Poisonous snakes, scorpions and other animals are pulled out of their Styrofoam boxes, and payments of hundreds, sometimes thousands of euros are made in cash or via PayPal.

    Each transaction comes with a quickly filled-in and pre-typed “proof of origin” form, in which the seller simply attests that he sold a specific, captive-bred animal to the new buyer. No matter the international conservation status of the species, captive-bred individuals can generally be sold legally in Germany unless local laws specifically state otherwise. In many cases, a “proof of origin” letter is all one needs to show that the animal wasn’t poached from the wild — even though it may not be true.

    Altherr says that Hamm marks a “proliferation of the illegal trade” as a lack of oversight and inspections, and a general disregard for low-priority crimes such as the trafficking of reptiles, allows traders to sell any species they’d like. These include animals that are threatened with extinction and could have been poached from the wild in countries like Madagascar or Sri Lanka, and trafficked to Germany.

    Representative of local police and customs authorities who were not allowed to speak to the media confirmed to Mongabay that they were not going to inspect the fair in March. In 2015, however, a German customs unit followed a tipoff that led them to a hotel room in Hamm where more than 130 reptiles and amphibians, many of them protected and threatened species, were being sold on the sidelines.

    The vast majority of reptiles at the fair can legally be sold, but, as one trader at Hamm put it: “If you’re looking for a special animal, I won’t say it’s not possible.”

    Legal loopholes
    International trade in certain animal and plant species is subject to restrictions under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which aims to ensure that threatened species aren’t pushed toward extinction by commercial trade. However, CITES only protects 8 percent of the world’s 10,700 known reptile species from the commercial trade.

    Many more reptile species are protected under national laws, though. Since CITES generally lists species once their numbers are dwindling and trafficking has become rampant, the governments of countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Cuba have banned trading endemic wildlife in the hope of never seeing their numbers dwindle in the first place.

    It’s a pre-emptive measure, but one with gaping loopholes, says Jordi Janssen, a program officer with the Canada-based NGO Monitor Conservation Research Society, who specializes in the reptile trade. While nationally protected reptiles shouldn’t make it out of the country protecting them, bans no longer apply once they cross the borders.

    “This grey area is really the biggest problem at the moment,” Janssen says. Sri Lanka, he says, is a good example.

    Out of the tropical island state’s 219 reptile species, many of which are endemic, all but four snakes are protected from being collected in the wild or traded. Yet trafficking in these species appears to be on the rise, Janssen and his colleague, Sri Lankan biologist Anslem de Silva, found in a recent study published in April this year.

    The pair monitored online trade websites and a number of Facebook groups between 2016 and 2018 and found several hundred Sri Lankan reptiles for sale across Europe, with Germany being identified as the main hub. Most were advertised as captive-bred, but some were openly advertised as having been poached from the wild.

    Protected at home, sold at Hamm
    Species that fall under that category — protected by national law but not beyond the border — are a common sight at Hamm. Take, for example, Tiliqua rugosa. Known as the bobtail, this blue-tongued skink is relatively common in its native Australia, where it’s protected from trade under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This has made it a rare and highly coveted pet reptile outside Australia, with individuals fetching prices of more than $4,000. At Hamm, it’s one of the most expensive merchandises on offer.

    “At the moment, they are really into curly endives,” a German breeder selling the reptiles, kept in small, glass terrariums, explains to an interested buyer from South Korea. All of them were bred in captivity, he says, given the strict regulations in Australia. Mongabay could not confirm his claims.

    Both Altherr and Janssen say that no German or EU law stops the breeder from selling the species, even though at one point a couple of bobtails were trafficked out of Australia to begin captive breeding.

    Just how tightly wound the legal and illegal trade are is exemplified by some of the sellers’ criminal records, with arrests for smuggling in countries like Costa Rica, New Zealand and Madagascar, according to news reports. Despite their records, fair organizer Frank Izaber continues to provide them with a trade platform. Izaber declined to comment for this story.

    Journalists aren’t welcome at the fair, and photography is strictly banned. Security guards patrol the venue to remind everyone with a phone that they’ll be “escorted outside” if they don’t comply. Altherr says her advocacy got her banned from the fair.

    To stymie the trade in Europe, conservationists have proposed a law modeled after the U.S. Lacey Act, which bans the trade in any species that was taken, transported or sold in violation not just of U.S. law, but the law of any foreign country of origin.

    Such a regulation would also be needed in Europe, which experts say has become a popular hub and destination for trafficked wildlife, not just due to Hamm.

    In 2015 alone, more than 2,000 reptiles were seized at the EU’s borders, which is believed to be less than 10 percent of the actual trade. In 2018, Spanish authorities dismantled an international reptile trafficking ring and confiscated more than 600 reptiles collected from all over the world. How many had already been trafficked and sold is unclear.

    What is certain, however, is that reptile trafficking is highly lucrative. Some species can be bought for a few dozen dollars in their country of origin, are easily smuggled past airport and border authorities in check-in luggage or shipments, and can be sold in countries like Germany for thousands of euros per individual. Izaber told a local paper in 2014 that some traders make 200,000 euros ($223,000) or more at the fair.

    It’s so lucrative, in fact, that it pays off to fly in all the way from Asia, said the three South Koreans who had been bargaining for the Australian bobtail. They bought it for a little over 4,000 euros ($4,460). Toward the end of the fair, the trio had grabbed a table at the bustling Cafe del Sol. Together, they had spent more than 50,000 euros ($55,800) — a good exploit that will make them several times the buying price at home. Trading reptiles, they say, is their main job, and so they’ll be back for the next fair on June 1 this year.

    “Hamm,” one of them says, pausing as he chews on a steak, “It’s just the best.”
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  6. #4
    BPnet Veteran Godzilla78's Avatar
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    Re: Busted By Operation Blizzard!

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