Goals and Tools

A primary goal of CEFS is to prevent contraband from entering into transit, where it becomes more expensive and difficult to trace. This goal is best achieved by stopping transnational crime organizations (TCOs). A small number of TCOs appear to be moving the majority of large volumes of contraband out of source countries. Some of these TCOs have been operating for years, consolidating and shipping large containers of contraband out of marine ports. Stopping these organizations chokes the trade at its source and also eliminates the major buyers that poachers depend on.

While large contraband seizures are limited, they provide an enormous amount of information when they do occur. For instance, they can tell us where the animal was poached and whether the contraband in one seizure is linked to others, potentially identifying the TCO responsible for multiple shipments. We are developing a diversity of complementary measures (e.g., DNA, isotopes, chemistry, pollen; see “Research Programs”) that we combine with obtained physical evidence (e.g., shipping location, shipper) to obtain this information  This requires government collaboration and trust, garnered through long-term government and NGO collaborations.


Sources: Strontium, Commission on isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights; Organic chemicals, Lumen Learning


We work to collaborate on all levels because transnational crimes cannot be adequately investigated if the data are isolated.  A single TCO may get contraband from a small number of areas where wildlife are most abundant, but has a strategy to create confusion among law enforcement and other investigators by shipping containers through a large number of countries before reaching the end destination.  Seizures can be made in any of those countries making transnational collaboration vital to effectively combat this trade.

We are also developing tools (RAS dogs, Xyltron, hand-held spp ID device) and using our research findings to increase interdictions and rapidly establish probable cause among TCO leaders and members.  This increases the availability of seizures and provides the first step of ensuing traffickers are thoroughly investigated.

Notably, we have found that the timber trade and IUU fishing have the added challenge of intermixing legally and illegally acquired individuals of the same species.  Our efforts to determine the origin of seized products is, thus, especially important when working to stop the illicit trade of these products.  Seized shipments also provide early indications of potential emergent diseases in the large volume of trafficked material.