BEIJING, China, October 12, 2015 (ENS) – Beijing Forest Police have arrested 16 suspects in a major wildlife trafficking case code-named May 21. The sting led to the seizure of wildlife products worth about US$4 million, including ivory, rhino horn and bear paws.

Beijing Forest Police officers told a news conference today that they netted 804.4 kg of ivory, 11.3 kg of rhino horn and 35 bear paws after working for three months to solve this case.


Beijing Forest Police display ivory, rhino horn and bear parts at a news conference announcing the arrests in the May 21 or “5.21” operation, Oct. 12, 2015 (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)

Officers said the sting was their biggest to date in terms of the scale of the smuggling operations behind it. They said the criminal gang had their own processing factory, warehouses and vehicles.

They used antique shops as covers for their operations and used illegal online trading and couriers for distribution, police alleged.

The bust comes just two weeks after China and the United States made a joint political commitment “to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory” during President Xi Jinping’s late September state visit to The White House.

In July, the United Nations passed a General Assembly Resolution on tackling the illicit trafficking in wildlife.

The Beijing Forest Police operation trace the trafficking ring’s activities from Japan through Hong Kong to mainland China, where the criminals are alleged to have operated across a network from Guangdong to Shandong and Beijing.

Zhou Fei, who heads the China Programme of the UK-based international wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, complimented the police for dismantling an entire smuggling ring and its infrastructure.

“The Beijing Forest Police operation is a clear demonstration of the Chinese government’s commitment to crack down on illegal wildlife trade and support international efforts to protect endangered species. As a Chinese proverb aptly says: ‘Action is far more powerful than words,’” said Zhou.

It is possible all the wildlife products confiscated by police originated in Japan, where the popularity of legally owned items such as ivory and rhino horns from the 1980s and earlier has plummeted, and people have been selling family heirlooms and other goods into the marketplace.

Information from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database, which TRAFFIC manages on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, indicates that ivory trade between Japan and China was first recorded in 2005 but really began developing from 2009.

Through 2014, some 56 police seizures have involved nearly a tonne of ivory, and rhino horn and a bear skin have been seized on at least two occasions.

According to information released at the news conference, since 2013, the Beijing Forest Police have cracked 222 cases involving illegal wildlife trade and arrested 108 suspects.

A total of 1,321 wildlife products worth around US$7 million, including 1,527 kg of ivory have been confiscated, police said.

“Over TRAFFIC’s years of monitoring physical and online illegal wildlife markets, we have provided information and capacity training to the Forest Police, and we look forward to continuing our support for law enforcement efforts by the Chinese government and their international counterparts,” said Zhou Fei.

Beijing Forest Police are reminding members of the public not to consume illegal and endangered wildlife products and to report any suspicious activity to the police.

Police officers confirmed their commitment to monitoring online and physical markets for illegal wildlife sales and to preventing poaching and illegal exploitation of wildlife.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2015. All rights reserved.