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Zoo works with airport customs to stop illegal trade in wildlife meat
Over the last two months, an expert from Antwerp Zoo has been working with customs agents and inspectors from the federal public health department to recognise and safely confiscate illegal bushmeat, hunting trophies and vegetation coming through Brussels Airport.
The co-operation was part of Operation Thunder 2020, an international campaign to stop the illegal trade in protected forestry and wildlife, including meat, ivory and coral. The annual campaign is organised by Interpol and the World Customs Organization.
During several training days, the team checked baggage come into Brussels from West and Central Africa. The inspections turned up three kilograms of illegal alligator meat and an entirely intact monkey that had been smoked for food (pictured above).
“That is a serious offense and potentially dangerous,” said Philippe Jouk, a doctor of veterinary medicine and biodiversity expert at the zoo. “This is exactly why it’s so important to inform people that this is illegal. Customs can write up summons on the spot, and the passengers face steep fines.”
The worldwide trade in exotic plants and animal species is a lucrative business worth billions of euros a year. Brussels Airport is a hub in the trade as it often comes through the capital before moving on to other countries. It is estimated that more than 44,000 kilos of bushmeat comes through the airport every year.
The trade in wild animals not only threatens species, it poses health risks to people. We need look no further than the origins of the coronavirus to comprehend the potential dangers.
“Bushmeat is a potential threat to public health,” says Jouk. “It can bring sicknesses into the country like monkeypox and viral infections.” Anything confiscated at the airport is handed over to a specialised firm to destroy.
Jouk points out that some of the meat that comes through is considered a delicacy and can earn the seller a tidy sum. Other times it’s a smaller amount, meant for the passenger’s personal consumption. “For some travellers, it’s a traditional food from their homeland,” explains Jouk.
He says that their efforts appear to be making a difference. “Today, we find much less illegal product than we did a few years ago. The inspections and clear communication of the laws are making a real difference.”
Photo courtesy Antwerp Zoo