New Report Reveals Disturbing Trends in Tiger Trafficking


Bengal Tiger in Kamataka, India. Photo: Paul Mannix

Johannesburg, South Africa, 29th September 2016—a new report from TRAFFIC and WWF found no evidence of any diminution in tiger trafficking across Asia. Seized body parts equate to at least 1755 tigers confiscated between 2000 and 2015—an average of more than two animals per week.

Published ahead of a critical debate on the illegal tiger trade at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES), “Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-examined” found there had been 801 recorded seizures of tigers and tiger products across Asia since 2000.

With only an estimated 3,900 tigers left in the wild, evidence points to a marked increase in tiger farming. See the full press release from TRAFFIC at this link.

Natural history museums can have a crucial role in raising public awareness of illegal trade and unethical captive breading programs, especially in countries where these practices occur.




Wildlife Witness App Helps Stop Trafficking

Wildlfie Witness App.PNGIf you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, there is an app that will allow you to identify and report wildlife that is being illegally traded.

In 2014 Sydney’s Taronga Zoo partnered with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, to create Wildlife Witness, the first global community action smartphone app in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. The app allows tourists and locals to easily report wildlife trade by taking a photo, pinning the exact location of an incident and sending these important details to TRAFFIC.

Reports by app users will be analyzed by a Wildlife Crime Data Analyst and over time, the information will help build data and enrich understanding of illegal wildlife trade across the region, help prioritize response action and highlight areas in need of increased enforcement resources.

Wildlife Witness will also feature information on species threatened by trade, how they are often traded, as well as tips for reporting wildlife crime safely. Its current focus is the South-East Asian region which serves as source, consumer and transit hub in both the legal and illegal trade of wildlife. It is hoped app users will include the growing number of tourists to Southeast Asia as well as the region’s own smartphone users and over time will expand on what is known about illegal trade here.

The app was developed with funds from the Vodafone Foundation’s App Aid competition. It has been developed for both iPhone and Android devices. Wildlife Witness is free to download from the App Store. or for Android

Natural History museums have an important opportunity to promote this this app to their visitors and researchers who are visiting the region. Read more about the app and the initiative at this link.

ICOM NATHIST Supports World Environment Day


ICOM NATHIST has a relationship with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), providing mutual support to programs with common purpose. One of the most important programs is World Environment Day (WED) every 5th of June.

World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

This year, ICOM NATHIST is especially supportive, as its focus is taking action against illegal wildlife trafficking, in recent years one of the key strategic focuses of ICOM NATHIST.


WED aims to inspire more people around the world than ever before to take action to prevent the growing strain on planet Earth’s natural systems from reaching breaking point. This year’s theme is the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife, which erodes our precious biodiversity and threatens the survival of awesome species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers as well as many others that are less celebrated. It also undermines our economies, communities and security.


The WED Website provides ideas for getting involved raising awareness of WED and wildlife trafficking at this link. If you or your institution does an activity, let us know and we will promote it here.

Global Shipping Industry to Tackle Wildlife Trafficking

Sustainable shippingA declaration to tackle global wildlife trafficking routes has been signed by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) – a coalition of companies from across the global shipping industry.

The declaration was unveiled by The Duke of Cambridge, President of United for Wildlife, and is the culmination of 12 months of work to develop a plan, led by the transport sector, to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking routes. The declaration states that shipping must earn a reputation for being a trusted and responsible partner in the communities that it touches around the world.

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) is an ambitious coalition of shipping leaders from around the world that is taking practical steps to tackle some of the sector’s greatest opportunities and challenges. The group is working to achieve a vision of an industry in which sustainability equals success.

This initiative represents the first time the shipping industry has joined forces on such a cooperative global scale to tackle big sustainability issues. The ultimate goal is to show that collaborative action is possible, and to mobilize support across the industry, demonstrating that shipping can contribute to – and thrive in – a sustainable future.


Signing the Agreement. Source: SSI 2016

The United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration is a landmark agreement, outlining 11 commitments aiming to help support the private sector in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. These include: increasing passenger, customer, client, and staff awareness about the nature, scale, and consequences of illegal wildlife trade, promoting the declaration’s commitments across the entire transport sector , improving the training of staff within the transport sector to enable them to detect, identify and report suspected illegal wildlife trade, and acknowledge staff who champion this cause, and notifying relevant law enforcement authorities of cargoes suspected of containing illegal wildlife.

Read more about the declaration here.


Accused Cleveland museum gem thief appears in court

Hans WrageCLEVELAND, Ohio —  December 14, 2015. The man arrested in connection with a gem theft at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was issued $5,000 bond in court. Hans Wrage, 36, pleaded not guilty to his charges, despite the fact that he was caught on security camera at the time of the event. Wrage was arrested after a warrant was issued for his arrest Friday.

Police were called to the museum earlier this month after staff members found a number of gems missing from the gem room. The seven stolen sapphires are valued at roughly $81,000.

Wrage works at the physics department at John Carroll University as a Teaching & Research Support Technician. He received his B.A. in physics at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. His upper-level research project used time-resolved spectroscopy to study carrier dynamics in semiconductors. He went on to work at the University of St. Thomas also located in Minnesota where he was the laboratory manager for the physics department. Similar to his current position at JCU, he managed department facilities including the machine shop and computers, and built new classroom apparatuses and demonstrations. He received his M.S. at Creighton University in Omaha, NE where his thesis was on measuring the x-ray fluorescence cross-sections of select rare earth elements.

The university placed him on administrative leave pending the school’s investigation of the allegations. To see more related to this incident follow this link (Fox 8, Cleveland).


United States returns ancient dinosaur fossil, ancient cultural artifacts to China

US-returns-ancient-antiquities-to-China5WASHINGTON – On December 10, 2015 a microraptor fossil estimated to be approximately 120 million years old was returned to the government of China Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale, China’s Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage Gu Yucai and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan participated in the repatriation ceremony. In addition to the microraptor fossil, ICE also returned jade disks, bronze trays and other items, dating back as far as 1600 BCE to the Chinese government.

The artifacts were recovered by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in New York, Cleveland and Miami. The fossil was falsely manifested as a “craft rock” and later as a “fossil replica” to conceal the shipment’s true contents.

eric-prokopiHSI Cleveland and HSI New York worked jointly to investigate Eric Prokopi, 38, of Florida, who later pleaded guilty to engaging in a scheme to illegally import dinosaur fossils. According to court documents and statements made in Manhattan federal court, Prokopi owned and ran a business out of his Florida home and is a self-described commercial paleontologist. Prokopi was fined, served time in jail and was subject to 15 months supervisory release.

As part of his plea agreement, Prokopi admitted to the forfeiture of a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, which was looted from Mongolia and sold at auction in Manhattan for over $1 million. The specimen was the subject of a separate pending civil forfeiture action. Prokopi also agreed to forfeit a second nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, a Saurolophus skeleton, and an Oviraptor skeleton, all of which he possessed and were recently recovered by the government. In addition, Prokopi will forfeit his interest in a third Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton believed to be located in Great Britain. All of the fossils originated in Mongolia. The skeleton of a Chinese flying dinosaur that Prokopi illegally imported has already been administratively forfeited.

“The repatriation of these items is a great success for the United States and for the Chinese government and its people,” said Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan. “Cultural heritage endures as a reminder of the contributions and historical experiences of humanity, and we must continue to work together on many fronts to safeguard it.”

Agreement SigningImmediately following the repatriation ceremony, Dr. Eric Dorfman, Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and President of ICOM NATHIST joined Mr. Zhang Zhijun, Deputy Chief of the Department of Stratigraphy and Paleontology for the Geological Museum of China, in signing an agreement formalizing a plan to lend the fossil to the Carnegie Museum for a future exhibition at a date to be determined.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 8,000 items to more than 30 countries.

2015 Meeting Report

22330959856_0a21159efc_cThe second annual meeting of the ICOM NATHIST Wildlife Trafficking Working Group was hosted by the National Taiwan Museum on the 18th of October  2015, in association with the ICOM NATHIST annual conference. This meeting was an important advance on work to date.

At the meeting, we were very fortunate to have delegates from institutions including TRAFFIC; CITES; the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums; Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Taipei Zoo; the Natural History Museum of the University of São Paulo and National Taiwan Museum. The geographic mix was different from our previous meeting in Zagreb, affording the Working Group an opportunity to hear presentations that detailed important experiences from the Asian region.

22330942366_98aac838ff_cThe principal work of this meeting was to finish the ICOM NATHIST White Paper on Natural History Museums and Wildlife Trafficking. This was agreed to at the 2014 meeting as a key deliverable of the working group, and was ratified at the 2015 annual general meeting. This document is currently being laid out for printing. An electronic version will be published on the ICOM NATHIST Wildlife Trafficking Working Group website and print copies disseminated globally early in 2016.

22169255438_99e4b75464_cWe are very grateful to our hosts and participants for this meeting. Through this work, we hope to assist in addressing one of the world’s most intractable environmental problems.

Fossils stolen from Devon cave site

elephanttoothDEVON, UK – September 17, 2015 A cave site in the southwest of England (protected by steel doors) has recently been broken into and some material broken out of the fossil bed and stolen. Alan Finch, secretary at the William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust, announced that Joint Mitnor Cave and Reeds Cave were broken into lately and certain artifacts such as an iconic elephant tooth (pictured) were stolen.

The cave is the site of the richest deposit of mammalian remains of the Last Interglacial age (probably about l00,000 years old) yet found in a British cave. These animals had apparently fallen down a shaft in the roof of the cave, since blocked, and their remains were buried below in a talus cone of earth and stones.

Considerable damage was caused to the surrounding area during the break-in. The Police have been informed and the Devon Wildlife Trust are working with the organization to improve site security.

The trust is working with has asked the caving community to keep an ear to the ground and see if any strange objects pop up for sale.

Their website informs readers that: Just inside the entrance is a fair sized chamber to the left of which a talus cone of earth, boulders and bones covered by stalagmite slopes steeply upwards to form a rift. This talus once extended across the floor of the chamber but has since been excavated to reveal over 4000 bones of animals such as hippopotamus, bison, hyaena, and straight-tusked elephants dated to the lpswichian stage of the Pleistocene period.

While this interesting and relevant information highlights the importance of the site to science and tourism, it’s also an unfortunate reality that this level of detail may have aided the culprits. It points to an increasing level of security required for natural objects and calls into question how specific we should make information on our websites.

Crime Museum in Washington DC hosts workshops on drones and the wildlife trade

Drones used to protect wildlife. Photo: Crime Museum

Drones used to protect wildlife. Photo: Crime Museum

The Crime Museum in Washington DC (which is sadly shortly going to close its doors) has hosted sell-out workshops this summer to show people how to make the kind of drones that protect wildlife from poachers in situ. They said:

In 2014 over 40,000 elephants and 1,200 rhinos were killed by poachers for their ivory horns and tusks, worth as much as $250,000 on the underground market. If this rate continues, both elephants and rhinos will be extinct within the next 10 years. In the past decade, 1,000 rangers have been killed in efforts to stop these illegal activities.

Conservationists and African officials are now turning to new techniques in their fight against poaching. One modern tactic is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones, to catch poachers in the act and protect endangered species such as rhinos, elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, and African leopards. These drones are used by rangers to not only track poachers, but to save injured animals as well.

You will:

  • Learn the uses for drones
  • Learn how to build your own drone
  • Fly the drone you build

It sounds like a great workshop series and was clearly extremely popular. Its great degree of uptake demonstrates in a very clever way how museums can engage audiences in a meaningful way to increase awareness about the gravity of the illicit wildlife trade. This sort of activity should inform a deeper perspective that catalyzes responsible action. That, after all, is one of the great contributions of museums.

Ivory, Tortoise Shell, & Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking, A New Exhibition at the Crime and Punishement Museum

Ivory, Tortoise Shell and Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking

Ivory, Tortoise Shell and Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking

WASHINGTON D.C. It’s estimated that in the last century we have lost 97 percent of the world’s tigers. In just the last 13 years there has been a 76percent decline in the elephant population. Last year alone, there were over 1,200 rhinoceros killed. Each of these animal populations are being severely depleted in large part due to illegal wildlife trafficking, an issue that our own government has recently announced it is taking on in an effort to combat the problem. Now, people have the opportunity learn more about the world of illegal wildlife trafficking at a new exhibit, called “Wildlife Trafficking: Are you contributing to the trade?” at the Crime Museum, located in Washington, D.C.

“Illegal wildlife trafficking is an issue that we should all be concerned with,” states Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer of the Crime Museum. “The manner in which these poached animals are killed is horrific. If we educate the public on this cruelty, maybe consumers will stop purchasing goods like ivory earring or tortoise shell necklaces.”

By collaborating with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other amazing partners, the Crime Museum is able to offer the Wildlife Trafficking exhibit to the public. It’s estimated that the illegal trade market for wildlife products is around $20 billion annually. Being so profitable, it leads many people abroad to illegally kill animals for particular parts that they know they can sell on the black market. The items being traded include elephant ivory, bear and fish bladders, rhinoceros horns, sea turtles, and more.

Many of these products make their way to the American consumer, as well as other foreign shoppers. Many people do not realize when they purchase things made from ivory or turtle shells that the animal has been illegally poached for that purpose. Products readily available made from such harvested items include wall hangings, trinkets, sunglasses, hair clips, jewelry, statues, and more. Recently, the Obama administration announced a plan to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking. Using American intelligence agency power, they will help locate those who are profiting from the illegal trade. The president also called it an “international crisis.”

Even Prince William has come out and publicly condemned illegal wildlife trafficking, saying that it “…erodes the rule of law, fuels conflict and may even fund terrorism.” “The ‘ugly truth about wildlife trafficking’ is that by purchasing certain products people are contributing to the killing of endangered plants and animals, helping invasive species and diseases spread around the world, and supporting the actions of criminal networks threatening the security of many nations.

But all is not hopeless,” says Jennifer Sevin, President, Youth Environmental Programs, Inc. “There are innovative tools and techniques being implemented, such as those highlighted in this exhibit, by agencies and organizations tirelessly working to combat this illicit practice. We hope that visitors of the exhibit help reduce the demand and take action to stop wildlife trafficking.”

The Wildlife Trafficking exhibit will be at the Crime Museum from June 2015 through February 2016, giving people an opportunity to see if they are contributing to the problem, and how they can help. The Crime Museum also offers a variety of other temporary and traveling exhibits, summer camp programs, walking tours, educational hands-on exhibits, and more.

For more information to purchase tickets, visit their site at

This exhibit is made possible by Freeland Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, INTERPOL, Kashmir World Foundation, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WildAid, Wildlife Trust of India and Youth Environmental Programs.