The Civil Guard detains or investigates 203 people and apprehends more than 2,000 specimens of protected fauna species

Among the specimens seized include tusks of African elephant ivory, shells of hawksbill turtle or skins of boreal lynx and ocelot

Pioneering in Spain, the technique of dating antiquity through Carbon 14, a key element in the investigation of the illicit trade in ivory, has been used.

The Civil Guard, in the framework of the operation "Celacanto", has detained or investigated 203 people for illegal trafficking of protected species and for crimes related to non-compliance with the CITES Convention and the contraband or document falsification regulations. In addition, 2,296 specimens from 70 protected fauna species have been apprehended.

In addition, a total of 225 complaints have been filed for irregularities related to the Smuggling Law, the Law of Natural Heritage and Biodiversity or the regulations on consumption, trade and sale of animals, or animal health.
More than 2,000 inspections have been carried out in establishments selling animals, wholesalers, private collectors, antique shops, as well as coordinated services in ports and airports.
The operation, which has been developed in three phases, is part of the LIFE Project "Guardians of Nature" against illegal trafficking of protected species and the Spanish Action Plan against illegal trafficking and international wildlife poaching (Plan TIFIES ).

Phase I. European eel traffic

The first phase, coordinated by Europol at European level and Interpol at an international level and developed from April 15 to 28, has focused on locating European eel meat returned to the European market after its exit through the illicit market.
This species is illegally exported in its alevin phase (angula) to Asian countries, in which it is fattened in farms for its later consumption in the form of smoked or filleted eel, returning to the European market as a product prepared for human consumption or frozen product.
It should be noted that the Civil Guard leads in Europe the fight against the illicit trafficking of eels since 2012, which led to the launch last year of the Eel-licit operation with the aim of covering all phases of the illicit traffic, from the illegal exports made to Asian countries, to their subsequent return to the countries of consumption.
During this phase, a total of 196 inspections have been carried out in food and catering establishments, of which 51 samples have been obtained for referral and subsequent analysis by the Criminalistics Service of the Civil Guard. Of the samples sent, 4 of them were identified as European eels, which has led to an investigation being opened to locate the possible people involved in this illicit trade.

Phase II. Reptile traffic

The second phase, developed between April 29 and May 12 and coordinated by Europol at European level and Interpol at international level, has as its main objective the fight against the illicit trafficking of reptiles.
During the investigation, a total of 217 inspections were carried out, in which 628 specimens of live reptiles were intervened, and 6 people were also arrested for crimes against flora and fauna or for falsification of documents.
Among the actions carried out, it is worth highlighting the intervention at the Barcelona-El Prat airport of 76 giant tortoise specimens from Aldabra that a passenger carried in his luggage. This species is included in the CITES Convention, and therefore considered a protected species. Given its rarity, it is highly demanded in the illicit market, with seized specimens reaching an approximate market value of 114,000 euros.
In addition, 113 specimens of Madagascar star-tailed turtle, a very valuable species in terms of conservation, have been seized, as it is listed as "Critically Endangered" by IUCN. In addition, in economic terms, the total valuation for seizures of this species is higher than 90,000 euros.
In the provinces of Málaga, Almería and Murcia, numerous seizures have been made due to the sale and irregular possession of the black turtle, a species included in the Spanish Catalog of Endangered Species in the "Vulnerable" category and which, due to the ease of its capture, to that in Spain are some of the best populations of this species in Europe, it is very appreciated by collectors.
During this phase, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has supported the CITES Management Authority through the preparation of detailed identification cards related to the most susceptible species to be trafficked, as well as the development of joint inspections with subject matter experts.

Phase III. Trafficking of protected species, especially ivory

Finally, the actions carried out during the third phase, developed between June 3 and 30 and framed within Operation Thunderball under the coordination of Interpol, have focused on the fight against the illegal trafficking of African elephant ivory, a species of which its population has decreased up to 30% in the last 7 years due to its slaughter by poachers. Between 2007 and 2014 it was estimated that poachers killed about 28,000 specimens a year; although a study this year estimated that between 2014 and 2017 this figure had been reduced to about 14,000 copies annually. A decrease probably attributed to the lower abundance of these animals and the greater protection they were receiving by African countries. In any case, if the current rate of poaching is maintained, experts estimate that the elephant population will be extinct in the next 15-20 years.
Prior to the operation and with the objective of technically preparing the intervening agents, the General Directorate of Biodiversity and Environmental Quality of MITECO conducted four highly specialized courses in the identification and assessment of ivory to 60 agents of Seprona.
During the development of this phase, 197 people have been arrested or investigated for crimes such as illicit trafficking of species, contraband or forgery, and complaints have been filed for more than 200 administrative infractions related to contraband regulations, hygienic-sanitary conditions of animals or the absence of authorized zoological nucleus.
Likewise, there have been 1,669 seizures, including specimens of various species and articles derived from them, highlighting 543 pieces of ivory, valued at more than 400,000 euros, both carved and raw tusks.
In addition, trophies have been seized from endangered species such as the Great bustard, protected feline skins such as the ocelot or the boreal lynx, some already made (fur coats), hawksbill turtle shells and three pieces of African rhinoceros horn whose price in the illegal market would reach € 60,000 / kg.
Among the live specimens also highlights the confiscation of 6 gray parrots of vinegar tail, species classified as Endangered by IUCN, and with a total value that would be around 6,000 euros.
It should be noted the intervention of a total of 313 live specimens, highlighting the discovery of a clandestine zoo in the province of Badajoz where they were without any authorization more than 100 specimens of various species such as the African porcupine or the crowned crane, who enjoy a high degree of protection. As a result of this investigation, arrests took place in the provinces of Málaga, Zamora, Valencia, Seville and Córdoba, as well as in Portugal, due to the irregularities detected in the documentation and the exchange of illegally produced specimens.

The Carbon 14 key technique in ivory dating

On the other hand, during the development of the third phase has been supported by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition for the dating of ivory through the technique of Carbon 14, which has been used for the first time in Spain for these purposes.
In the case of antiques and according to European regulations signed by Spain to trade carved ivory pieces, a CITES certificate is not required, provided that it can be demonstrated that the objects are older than 3 March 1947. In order to demonstrate that a piece of ivory is older than the date indicated, until now it was common to provide a certificate of antiquity issued by an expert antiquarian. Recently, MITECO has promoted the development of a methodology based on the analysis of radioisotopes of C14 for the dating of ivory.
The use of the mentioned technique allows to verify in a scientific way the veracity of these documents, being able to establish with a high degree of precision the antiquity of the piece of ivory object of study. In this way, it is easy to detect pieces of ivory that, being protected by having been certified as antiquities, are the object of illicit trade outside the control of the authorities, favoring the illegal trafficking of this material.
During the operation, the extraction of numerous samples obtained from the ivory pieces intervened was carried out. Currently, these samples are in the phase of analysis by mass spectrometry with accelerator (AMS) in the National Center of Accelerators, mixed center of the University of Seville and the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), the only center in Spain with capacity to carry out the aforementioned analyzes.
The operation involved agents belonging to the Seprona supported by units such as the Tax Service, Criminalistics and Citizen Security Service of the Civil Guard. Likewise, the collaboration of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, as CITES administrative authority.


Source of new