OTTAWA — Canadian wildlife enforcement officers have seized dozens of black-bear parts, diet pills made from endangered African plants and the bodies of two scaly anteaters as part of an international blitz targeting smugglers and poachers, Environment and Climate Change Canada says.
The seizures took place in June when Canada, for the third time, took part in Interpol’s Operation Thunderball with 108 other countries to go after global smugglers, poachers and traffickers of endangered and exotic species.
Sheldon Jordan, director general for wildlife enforcement at Environment and Climate Change Canada, said Canadians may not realize the extent of the smuggling issue in this country. He noted that about one-third of shark meat used in restaurants is illegally imported from endangered shark species.
One-third of eel in Canada is from Europe, where it isn’t allowed to be exported, Jordan said. Last year, 15 tonnes of European eel was seized in Canada during Operation Thunderball, but none was found this year, said Jordan.
WATCH: Legal rhino horn auction goes ahead in South Africa (Aug. 24 2017)
Globally wildlife crime is estimated to be a $200 billion business, but Jordan said nobody has been able to put a figure on the cost within Canada. He said, however, that there is a cost to the environment.
“We basically have a choice here: we can stop wildlife crime, or we can watch criminals drive wildlife to extinction,” he said.
The Canadian focus was on the export of at-risk species from Canada, particularly during the tenuous spring breeding season, and the illegal import of exotic animals and plants.
One of the most surprising finds was two dead, scaly anteaters found in Montreal smuggled from Cameroon. The animals, known as pangolins, are the most trafficked mammal in the world, with their scales in high demand for use in traditional medicines.
Jordan said Canada has never found them here before. No charges have yet been laid in that seizure because the investigation is complex, he said.
There are 18 charges laid or in the works for other seizures, including against American hunters caught smuggling black bear parts over the border during the spring hunt.
Jordan said “border blitzes” set up in New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan found at least 16 bear penis bones, as well as testicles and bear paws.
Black bears are protected under the global Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species. Canada allows black bear pelts to be exported, but requires permits to export parts that are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicines.
Another 12 charges are expected from other investigations, said Jordan.
Within Canada, a number of orders were issued to stop construction work around bank swallow nests to protect the highly endangered birds.
Another investigation is underway after inspectors found 220 migratory birds died after landing on tailings ponds at a fertilizer plant. Jordan said the tailings are heavily acidic and “there is something not normal going on here” when that many birds land on the deadly ponds.