- Special Report: The Orchid Smugglers
- Frontlines: Deadly Dangers Lurk for America’s Conservation Officers
- Face to Face Communications: Spontaneous and Planned Deception
- Feature: The Baiting Game part2
Environmental Talk Force “Heads up” to “Crack Down”
- International Digest: Updates and case summaries from agencies and associations around the world
- Articles: CITES 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
Patches of the Caribbean
The Right Man at the Right Time
The Orchid Smugglers
By Richard Labossiere
Having been a wildlife enforcement officer for over 20 years and having also seen just about everything when it comes to the illegal take, or possession and smuggling of wildlife, I must say at this particular two year investigation into the smuggling of rare and endangered Asian Tropical Lady Slipper Orchids was by far the most interesting and demanding!
It all started on March 2nd, 2000 at the Winnipeg International Airport in Manitoba, Canada. I received a call from a Canada Customs Inspector that a “very large” shipment of orchids had just arrived at air cargo. The Customs Inspector indicated that the importer of record was a local orchid nursery by the name of “Ever Spring Orchid Nursery” and that the country of export on record was Taiwan. Having already finished my morning cup of coffee I decided to head on over to the airport and take a little closer look at these intriguing plants. During the short drive to the airport it dawned on me that I knew very little about orchids and knew even less with respect to the identification of them. Now what! I needed to find someone who could assist me and who could also do this identification on plants that had no blooms. Did I forget to add that there were over 2,000 of these little plants in the shipment! It now looked like my day would be full and far from boring!
I managed to convince someone from the Manitoba Orchid Society in Winnipeg to help me (after three other society members declined the invitation). During my telephone conversation with this orchid expert I was informed that we would likely find some Appendix I, Lady Slipper (Paphiopedilum species), in the shipment. I knew the Paph species were Appendix I under CITES but how, in god’s green earth, did this fella know there would likely be some of these highly endangered orchids within this shipment? I may be slow -but the light bulb finally came on that this company must have previously imported some of these highly prized and very rare orchids into Winnipeg. This is why the orchid enthusiast had an inkling that something interesting might be waiting for us at air cargo.
Accompanied by my inspection kit, a few books on orchid identification, my orchid expert, a Canada Customs Inspector, and my green thumb, we dove right into the 13 boxes looking for anything out of the ordinary. After having opened the second box in the shipment, and spreading out some of the orchids located in the box, we noted some very small leafy bare root orchids. These plants appeared to have been sandwiched in between much larger orchids within the box. My orchid expert quickly hollered out “those are Paph species” whereupon I replied “yeh that’s what I thought”. I did not let on at the time that I was somewhat naive in orchid identification and went on my merry way setting these 30 some “suspect” plants aside for further analysis.
My expert explained why he felt the orchids in question were Paph species and then decided that we (the Customs Inspector and I) knew enough to continue the inspection all by ourselves. Truth be known, our expert suspected that the importer would likely be coming around shortly to pick up his plants and he really did not want to be around when the manager of the business arrived. I found out very quickly that the “orchid enthusiasts” all seem to know each other and that the “orchid moccasin telegraph” was functioning just fine!
Anyways, back to my story. In all, we located 211 Paph orchids and when we compared the Taiwanese CITES export permits to the shipment we noted that the shipper had not included any of the Paph’s on the permits BUT low and behold there were 211 “Cypripedium formosanum” orchids listed on accompanying CITES paperwork. Since the Cypripedium is an Appendix II orchid under CITES, a Taiwanese export permit would only be required to import these particular orchids into Canada. It became apparent to us that somebody was trying to pull the wool over our eyes in an attempt to bring these endangered lady slipper orchids into Canada.