MONTREAL — Last week’s indictment of a Canadian man in New York City, in connection with the poaching and smuggling of ivory and other wildlife products, serves as a reminder of how poaching is becoming a major industry in the criminal world — with Canada and Canadians playing a prominent role.
Closer to home, police last spring found cases of deer poaching in wooded areas of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and Senneville. There have also been major bear-poaching operations in Quebec, as bear organs and body parts are increasingly being sought in the black market, for aphrodisiac and other reasons. Bear-paw soup can command up to $250 a bowl in Toronto, according to a Canadian Geographic investigation.
Poaching is primarily regarded as an issue plaguing Africa (an estimated 20,000 elephants were poached across the continent in 2013), but Canada’s status as a haven to wildlife prized by poachers, and as a home to a multicultural populace that serves as a market for illegally hunted game, means this country has a vested interest, in addition to a moral one, in mounting an aggressive counterattack.
In New York last week, it was alleged that Xiao Ju Guan of suburban Vancouver paid $45,000 in New York for two black rhinoceros horns that he brought back to Vancouver and intended to ship to an address in Washington state. The horns are prized in some Asian countries as status symbols or for their supposed medicinal quantities.
U.S. wildlife authorities have launched a concerted crackdown on illegal trafficking now that demand is escalating, as are prices. Rhino horns, for example, are now selling for $30,000 a pound. Beyond the ecological tragedy for rhinos, elephants and other animals, it could represent an economic disaster for countries like Kenya and South Africa, where wildlife tourism is a main source of foreign revenue.
In Canada, it is deer, moose, black bears and fish that are the main victims, sold illegally at home or abroad. Well-organized bear-poaching networks are known to be especially active in British Columbia and Quebec.
On the island of Montreal, officials in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue said last spring they believed poachers were hunting the 50 deer living at L’Anse-à-l’Orme Nature Park, using hay bales to lure them to the side of the road and then shooting them with a bow and arrow. In 2010, a two-year police operation in the Eastern Townships broke up a deer-poaching ring involving more than 80 suspects. Another multi-year investigation involving 130 provincial and federal wildlife officers netted 50 meat-smuggling suspects in the Gaspé and New Brunswick. Officers seized 1,500 kilograms of moose and deer meat, much of it already converted into steaks and roasts. Poachers were killing at least 50 deer and 50 moose a year, putting a strain on the local wildlife population, as well as on law-abiding locals who count on wild game to fill their dinner tables. Some suspects showed particular cruelty, using modified trucks to run down moose and break their legs, leaving them to die and be picked up later.
In most cases, police and wildlife officers act on tips, indicating the important role that citizens can play in combating an illegal activity that is hard to police, and often complex to prosecute. With estimates that only 10 per cent of poaching offences are detected in Canada, closer surveillance and stricter penalties for the guilty will be required in the future, here at home but also internationally.