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U.S. cracking down on rhino horn smuggling

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Criminals see the wildlife trade as low risk, high profit," Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Edward Grace says. "Get caught smuggling a kilo of heroin, you will probably go to jail for the rest of your life if; smuggle a kilo of rhino horn, which nowadays is worth more than heroin or gold, in several countries worldwide you may only go to jail for a couple of years." To this end, the U.S. is pledging a stricter crackdown on poachers and smugglers of endangered animal species.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The United States is signaling its ongoing commitment to the eradication of wildlife-related crime through tougher prison sentences. Officials will also use such tactics as the seizure of financial assets, in order to protect the world's endangered rhinoceros species.

Grace says the value of wildlife crime is estimated at up to $8 billion a year, making it the most lucrative illegal activity after arms and drugs trafficking.

Africa's Black and White rhinos are on the cusp of extinction. In Asia, Vietnam lost its last Javan rhino in 2010. It's now believed that fewer than 200 of the Sumatran subspecies have survived.
 
In response, the U.S. recently launched Operation Crash - "crash" is the collective noun for rhinos - in which more than 200 federal agents are targeting illegal commerce of the animal's horn.

"When organized crime gets involved in any wildlife trade, they have the resources and the networks," Grace says. "So we make it a priority to go after these networks because they have the ability to do a lot of damage in a very short period of time."

Criminals who truck in rhino horn have been served notice that soft-sentencing is a thing of the past. In the last few weeks alone, two men with links to Vietnam were successfully convicted after an Operation Crash sting.
 
The two suspects, Jimmy and Felix Kha were found guilty of procuring horn, tax evasion and other offenses under the Lacey Act, one of the world's oldest wildlife protection laws. Both now face 20 years in prison.
 
"We will continue this effort for as long as it takes to identify, apprehend and jail every bad guy engaged in this illicit trade in rhino horn," Joseph Johns, chief of the environmental crimes section in the U.S. Attorney's Office, California says. "And we do expect more very significant arrests and sweeps to take place with regard to Operation Crash in the next year."
 
Operation Crash doesn't just go after low-paid middlemen and couriers. John says that federal agents are pursuing the bosses behind the trade, seizing their cars, homes and gold deposits and draining their bank accounts of millions of dollars in cash.
 
"The goal is not just to punish the crime, but take the profit out of it," he says. "We want to eliminate this [crime] in this generation. We call them endangered species for a reason. We cannot just wait and sit on our hands."

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