Customs dog sniffs out huge haul of wildlife parts
China-bound truck reveals biggest seizure in Russia's history
On 15 June 2011, a sniffer dog with the Blagoveschensk Customs Service uncovered the large haul of wildlife parts in an empty truck bound for China.
The largest contraband shipment of bear paws in the history of the Russian Customs Service was detained in the city of Blagoveschensk at an international check-point on the Russia-China border.
The attempt to smuggle the large shipment of parts was foiled by the officers and canine inspection unit during inspection of a truck returning to China from Russia.
According to the Customs Service press agency, notwithstanding the fact that the truck was empty, the officers noticed unusual behaviour from a sniffer dog and the nervous demeanour of the driver, a citizen of China. It was decided to conduct a search with special mobile inspection equipment.
Scanning of the vehicle revealed a secret room between two walls, packed with hidden bags of wildlife derivatives. The haul consisted of:
26 moose snouts (65 kilograms)
1,041 brown bear paws (1244,8 kg)
5 mammoth tusks (81,9 kg)
4 lynx pelts
The customs sniffer dogs project is supported by WWF Russia in partnership with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. According to a WWF spokesman, despite the fact that brown bear and lynx are common game species in Russia, they are included in Appendix II of the CITES convention, which limits their commercial utilization outside of the country.
"The confiscated load of bear paws is one of the largest in the modern history of the Russians Customs Agency," commented Sergei Aramilev, Species program coordinator at WWF Russia, Amur branch. "The murder of a bear – such an enduing symbol of Russia – just for his paws and gallbladder is barbaric, a base crime. To make up such a load it was necessary to shoot, at a minimum, 261 bears! The mutilated remains of these bears were left to rot in the forest, constituting a source of infection and disease."
The paws and gallbladder of bears are purchased from hunters and poachers for a pittance, and then transported to China, where they are considered both a delicacy and a potent medicine.Bear paws are a ritual dish for Chinese, elk lips a delicacy. Also smuggled daily, for food or medicine, are frogs, deer antlers and the genitals of spotted deer. The bones of highly endangered Amur tigers are sought for their aphrodisiac qualities.
The mammoth ivory tusks are more abundant than many people realize. Encased in an upper layer of Siberia’s permafrost are the remains of an estimated 150 million mammoths that lived from 3,600 to 400,000 years ago. The parts surface in the spring thaw across vast stretches of Russia’s far north and are routinely collected. Most are exported — legally — to China, South Korea and Japan to be carved into personal stamps used in place of signatures on documents.
In 2008, in very similar circumstances, another major smuggling channel between Russia and China was shut down (WWF report), and neither could have occurred without the work of the Customs Service sniffer dogs.