An exclusive look inside a secret wildlife crime exhibit room
360 tour of items seized by Canada's Wildlife Enforcement Directorate
Elephant and narwhal tusks, shark fins, snow leopard pelts, crushed tiger bones — these are just a few of the items Canadian wildlife enforcement officers come across in their ongoing battle to clamp down on illegal trafficking.
Fuelled by strong demand, the trafficking of protected wildlife has spiked in the past decade, leading to an annual worldwide trade worth between $10 billion and $30 billion US, according to Interpol.
"Wildlife crime is actually one of the biggest crime areas in terms of money-making in the world," says Sheldon Jordan, the chair of Interpol's Wildlife Crime Working Group and director general of Canada's Wildlife Enforcement Directorate, a branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada. "That puts it right up there after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting in terms of the value created."
When restricted items are discovered in Canada, they are confiscated by the Wildlife Enforcement Directorate. The directorate houses many of these pieces in a room in a secret location near Toronto. Most items are used either for educational purposes or destroyed.
CBC's the fifth estate got exclusive access to this exhibit room, and provides a guided 360-degree tour of some of the most exotic items in the collection.
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According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, the planet has lost 50 per cent of its wildlife over the past 40 years.
Jordan tells Mark Kelley from CBC's the fifth estate that in 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. In the last three years, that number has risen to over 1,000.
"You could buy a nice small house in Toronto with it," says Jordan, referring to a rhino horn. "That's how much it's worth."
Canada, along with 180 other countries, is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which lists over 5,000 animal species and 29,000 plant species.
An elite squad of 85 armed agents is tasked with enforcing Canadian rules about threatened and endangered species of animals and plants, which includes tracking and investigating suspicious packages and transactions.
One of the team's biggest busts involved an antiques dealer from Richmond, B.C. who was trying to smuggle rhino horns into Canada.
When the special unit raided his antique store, they uncovered a trove of smuggled sculptures made from elephant ivory and rare coral – all of it worth more than $500,000.
Some of the most valuable pieces coming into the country are smuggled in the mail. If officers from the Canada Border Services Agency spot any suspicious packages, the wildlife cops are called in.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Canada Post calls wildlife officials if a suspicious package is spotted. In fact it is the Canadian Border Services Agency that calls in wildlife officials when needed.