Photography by Gary Moore
These are a few of the thousands of stories from the wildlife frontlines.
“Operation Cold Storage", an unprecedented joint operation between undercover wildlife agents from Mississippi and Louisiana that resulted in the apprehension of over 50 wildlife violators along the Mississippi River. Thousands of pounds of game fish and over 100 deer were purchased during the investigation.
Steve Galster assembled and trained three five-man patrols made up of Afghan-war veterans and park rangers. The teams were deployed to track tiger hunters in the forest and use hidden cameras to record transactions in the city. Thanks to the success of Galster's original anti-poaching units, the Siberian tiger population has risen to 400.
Galster discovered in April 2000 the anti-poaching teams he'd organized had identified a rogue policeman from the neighboring town of Ussurisk, 40 miles north of Vladivostok, who was moving tiger and bear parts to a Chinese mobster across the Chinese border. The Vladivostok police alleged that the Chinese dealer had paid off the cop, Vladimir Korolev, to murder a competitor. Now they wanted Galster to pose as an American buyer, wear a wire, and catch Korolev in an illegal transaction.
Galster and Sergei Bereznuk, director of the Phoenix Fund, posed as his assistant. After making contact with Korolev, the men drove to Ussurisk in the middle of the night to meet him. They were wired with old Soviet listening devices that transmitted to a backup team of cops and government intelligence agents perched in a nearby van.
On the grainy video from a pinhole camera Galster was wearing, Korolev unrolls his wares and spreads them on the floor: skins from two massive adult male tigers, with their jaws frozen in wide snarls. Galster kneels down to examine them.
Galster agreed on a price of $3,000 for two skins, plus another $100 as a delivery fee. Delivery was key; the undercover team needed to get the trafficker back to their Vladivostok jurisdiction to arrest him.
"We didn't have $3,000 in cash to pay this guy off,” Galster says. "Then we got back to the hotel there was a car from the undercover team in the parking lot that he might have recognized." Galster and Bereznuk told the rogue cop they were going upstairs to fetch his money, but when Korolev saw some cops in the lobby greeting them familiarly, he revved up his car and bolted. Luckily, the backup team was able to pull him over and make an arrest.
Despite Galster's damning video, Korolev avoided jail time. But the operation still had a major impact: The skins were confiscated, and the Ussurisk police later fired Korolev. In a country where policemen are viewed as untouchable because they often live up to their reputation for corruption and ruthlessness, the arrest made national news.
"The biggest deal was the publicity," recalls Bereznuk, from his office in Vladivostok. "The trafficker wasn't just an ordinary cop. He had been in charge of a department that surveilled foreigners. That he was fired sent a big message to some traffickers: Even high-level bureaucrats could be caught and disgraced.
Please visit and support these two great organizations by visiting the websites below.
Pheonix Fund Vladivostok, Russia. www.phoenix.vl.ru.
Lt. Markee was the lead investigator for the biggest bust ever in Oregon for black bear poaching. In 1998, Markee had been tracking one hunter, Ray Hillsman, Oregon. At the time, some in law enforcement circles knew him as "the Al Capone of bear hunting."
It's believed Ray Hillsman slaughtered 50 to 100 bears annually for ten years before his arrest in 1998.
When Walt Markee Was asked what he learned most after the whole bloody, three-year-long bear poaching hunt was over, he paused and said, "Patience."
Chuck Hartwig phoned an animal hotline after Hillsman told him he had slayed a mother and cubs.
When Walt Markee heard the message, he couldn't believe his luck: The caller had left his name and number. The two finally met face-to-face in the cop's Salem, Oregon, office in early November 1996. Markee asked for Hartwig's help but didn't sugarcoat the assignment. He warned Hartwig it would change his life.
With the help of their informant, wiretaps, and hundreds of weekend hours spent monitoring Hillsman's movements, Lt. Markee finally amassed enough evidence. On May 4, 1998, more than 100 state police officers simultaneously served 16 warrants at 16 different sites throughout Oregon.
The demand for illegally killed bears, especially for their gallbladders, which are used for medicinal purposes in southeast Asian countries,
Most Gallbladders pass through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory located in the bucolic hills of Ashland, Oregon. Dubbed "the Scotland Yard of animal forensics, It is the only crime lab in the world dedicated entirely to wildlife. It serves both the national and international communities.
Dr. Espinoza says the lab routinely analyzes gallbladders seized by agents.
Hillsman was convicted on federal racketeering charges and for illegally hunting and selling bear parts; he received an 18-month sentence, the longest ever for a bear poacher.
"We were committed to a RICO case, the first time this has ever been done," recalled prosecutor Bob Hamilton, "and we still didn’t have one single gallbladder!" Hamilton had worked "no-dope" conspiracies before, proving huge volumes of narcotics trafficking without seizing much. "But you still have some," he said. "A baggie. A fold of meth. Something."
RICO stands for Racketeer, influenced and corrupt organizations. Any person who operates or manages an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity may be in violation of the RICO Act. Any group may be a RICO enterprise regardless of whether its members wear pinstripes, poster boards, fatigues or hoods.
The jury deliberated for just under four hours and came back with 51 unanimous votes: guilty on 49 separate wildlife offenses, one count of theft, and one RICO count.
“I thought the animals deserved better than what they were getting," he said later. "I'm not an animal activist or anything like that, but you don't just go out and slaughter bears”, Hartwig said.
Visit the Ashland Forensics lab website at www.lab.fws.gov.
In 1997 Robin Marinos created Earth Advocates. The spark? an’ out of control' fishing operation from further damaging the marine ecosystem along North West Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Since then Robin has devoted a large portion of his life toward the development of the organization with unrelenting determination for success. In spite of being a one-man show at the start, the successes he has achieved motivates him to carry the banner into new battles. To date, Robin has been from Washington DC to Jakarta, visiting many conferences and meetings; from the World Bank to various governmental ministries to plead his case.
Robin: “It hurts to see these places with ecosystems that have been irreversibly destroyed by human ignorance and carelessness. Please help us stop these torturous and practices and join other nations who have placed an outright ban on capture, killing and trading of green sea turtles.”. www.earth-advocates.org.
Heinz Van Holten, Owner of Bumbu Bali.
A champion of the turtles has often put his neck on the line to save the majestic green sea turtle and spreads education and awareness in his beautiful hotel and cooking lessons in his restaurant. www.balifoods.com/news/turtle.
Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Len Register, United States Attorney's Office, of Tennessee led the prosecution against a Camden, Tenn.-based Tennessee Shell Co. who pled guilty to a felony in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn., payed $1 million restitution for purchasing thousands of pounds of illegally taken freshwater mussels, One of the United States Most Valuable and Least Understood Wildlife Resources, from rivers in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, state wildlife officers and the Department of Justice made the case after a four-year investigation into the company's multi-million dollar trade activities.
Please support one of the many animal welfare organisations today: