12 March 2020 (Kyiv, Ukraine) – As part of the LIFE for Danube Sturgeon Project, WWF- Ukraine and the State Customs Service of Ukraine brought together 34 Customs officers from across the country for a 1-day training aimed at preventing the illegal traffic of CITES-listed species (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), with a particular focus on sturgeons.
The training provided Customs officers with a more in-depth understanding of the CITES’ requirements and its practical application. The event is linked to the project partners’ commitment to combat the illegal export of black caviar and sturgeon products. The trainers included Volodymyr Domashlinets who is in charge of implementing CITES at the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Environment, and Tetiana Yakovleva, who is responsible for implementing the CITES Convention on Sturgeon at the Ukrainian Agency for Fisheries. Both stressed the importance of applying CITES for nature protection in Ukraine, since Ukraine is both the country of origin and a transit point for illegal wildlife products.
Inna Hoch, the project’s coordinator in Ukraine, spoke about WWF-Ukraine’s main objective to contribute to halting and reversing biodiversity and habitat loss in the EU and worldwide by 2020. Their efforts will be supported by strengthening the capacity of law enforcement, and implementing the EU Strategy for the Danube Region and “Sturgeon 2020,” the EU’s programme for the protection of Danube sturgeons. Topics included how to recognise the different sturgeon species that can still be found in the Lower Danube, and how to correctly read the CITES code for legal caviar.
The other part of the training was led by Belgian Customs Investigation Officer Paul Meuleneire, whose involvement in the project with law enforcement agencies from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine has been invaluable. He has contributed significantly to updating operational protocols in the project countries as per the newest advancements in the identification and prosecution of wildlife crimes. During the training in Ukraine, Paul Meuleneire elaborated on the legal framework for import and export of sturgeon products in the EU, the EU requirements for labelling sturgeon caviar and meat, and presented examples of how the EU-TWIX information exchange system helps customs services in their daily work. The TWIX database contains centralised data on seizures and offences reported by all 27 EU Member States and the UK. Examples were given of cases involving hand bracelets made of elephant hair, ashtrays from rhino horn and scales of pangolins that were declared as plastic components.
European customs are often a gateway for illegal goods from Africa, but consignments of illegal wildlife products from Ukraine may also cross the border in the other direction. As Paul Meuleneire pointed out: “More often, it is black caviar, ordered on the Internet before the Christmas holidays. It has no CITES marking and is therefore illegal.”
WWF-Ukraine will continue to assist and support Ukrainian Customs officers in their fight against illegal wildlife trade and trafficking. A significant step to safeguard endangered species from extinction will be the adoption and implementation of clear action protocols for seized animals and products in Ukraine, and for the country to adhere to the European wildlife protection and sturgeon initiatives as much as possible.
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