UAE customs officials given training to boost animal trafficking fight

Wildlife smuggling is focus of workshops in Al Ain as authorities join battle to preserve threatened species

Rhinos are threatened by poachers who shoot the animals to trade their horns. UAE customs officials have attended workshops hosted by animal welfare organisations to help stem the flow of trafficked wildlife through the region. Courtesy: T Wakefield-Smith  
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UAE customs officers have been given anti-trafficking training to help improve detection rates of animals being smuggled into the region.

Educational programmes delivered by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are part of a wider mission to stem the flow of exotic animals transported into the region.

Many animals stolen from the wild are destined for the booming illegal pet trade and are often sold to private collectors.

“Our ultimate goal is to decrease the demand of raising wild animals as exotic pets and keeping wildlife products as souvenirs,” said Dr Mohamed Elsayed, IFAW’s Middle East and North Africa regional director.

“Raising awareness of the negative impacts these actions have on the wild and the planet is crucial at this point.”

Sessions were attended by officers monitoring land ports between Oman and the UAE at Meyzad, Khatm Al Shikla, Hail and Hilli.

Customs officials also attended from Al Ain International Airport.

Border control workshops focused on animal species most commonly trafficked into the Middle East and those listed on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

CITES is an international convention, protecting wild endangered animals and plants from international trade by controlling and regulating trade.

More than 35,000 plant and animal species are protected under CITES appendices.

Training for customs officers gave examples of recently intercepted smuggling cases and showed how to identify rare species.

Information was also passed on to show how to humanely handle confiscated animals on discovery.

“People need to know every individual animal matters, and all animals play an important role in the ecosystem, without exception,” said Dr Elsayed.

“Controlling borders and checkpoints will definitely help protect more animals from trafficking.”

The IFAW works with international governments and communities to develop lasting solutions to some of the most pressing global animal welfare and wildlife conservation issues.

In 2016, the UAE passed a law banning ownership of dangerous, wild or exotic animals except by licensed zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, breeding and research centres, and revoked permits issued to other authorities to import such animals.

In April, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment destroyed 2,272 tusks, rhinoceros and deer horns and illegal sandalwood confiscated by Dubai Police.

The IFAW is leading programmes across the region to reduce the risk of extinction of some of those animals.

It has deployed anti-poaching scouts in Ifrane National Park, Morocco to protect the Barbary macaque, a species vulnerable to poaching and loss of habitat due to logging.

Macaques who fall prey to trafficking and are caught by the authorities are returned to Rabat Zoo.

Typically, the animals live in groups and cannot be returned to the wild.

Wildlife experts from the IFAW are also co-ordinating with social media platforms Instagram and Facebook to monitor animals sold illegally online.