, Vienna Ministry of Finance/Customs: 12 years of the Trade in Species Act – 818 seizures of endangered species at Vienna Airport Blümel: "Austria's customs administration is making a vital contribution to the preservation of endangered species"
Since the Trade in Species Act came into force in Austria in 2009, there have been 818 seizures of rare and protected species from passengers passing through customs at Vienna Airport. As a result, Customs Office Austria has made a significant contribution to the preservation of endangered animal and plant species. Finance Minister Gernot Blümel is impressed by the number of customs seizures: "The important work done by customs regularly contributes to the ending of animal suffering and the protection of rare species. As a result, Austria's customs administration ensures not only the protection of domestic businesses and consumers, but is also making a vital contribution to the preservation of flora and fauna. Reviewing the endangered species recovered by customs over the past 12 years takes you on a journey ranging from the exotic, to the strange, to the simply unpalatable."
From parrot eggs, to seahorses, cacti and hunting trophies, to reptiles
Among the most inglorious highlights are 74 parrot eggs discovered packed in biscuit boxes and a coconut shell carried by two travellers from Jamaica in 2011. The eggs were taken to Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna and incubated there; in the end, over 50 parrots were hatched. In 2012, potency pills were found on a passenger from Cairo containing animal genitalia, some of which originated from protected species such as seahorses, snakes, tigers, or apes. Also in 2012, a total of 50 living turtles packed individual inside socks were identified in the suitcase of a traveller from Hong Kong. The severely-dehydrated creatures were nursed back to health at Schönbrunn Zoo. "The Zoo and the customs authorities are not just connected by virtue of longstanding collaboration on the training of dogs to detect endangered species, but ultimately, Schönbrunn often also serves as a rescue centre for the recovered animals," says Blümel, expressing his appreciation of such successful cooperation dedicated to animal welfare.
In 2013, a total of 60 birds, some packed into cardboard tubes, were found on a traveller from Bali, 21 of which were protected species. On arrival, 37 of the birds were already dead, and an examination revealed they had been suffering from bird flu. In 2017, 359 live cacti were found on two passengers, collected from the natural landscapes of Argentina and Bolivia.
Professional customs officers, technology and service dogs are the secret of success
As Mr Blümel affirms, the customs authorities have many ways of detecting prohibited items hidden in travellers' baggage: "The experience and professionalism of customs officers, coupled with technical equipment such as scanners and four-legged colleagues, our customs service dogs, are what make successful execution of endangered-species controls possible. Service dogs trained in the detection of endangered species work extremely effectively, since they can check items of luggage very rapidly without the need for bags to be opened. With a good sense of smell, a minimal amount of odour will suffice."
At the end of January 2021, officers from Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport discovered 74 endangered chameleons in the bags of a traveller from Tanzania. The animals were transported to Schönbrunn Zoo by customs investigators, where they were examined and cared for. Then, as Finance Minister Blümel relates, "In July, we received the gratifying news from Schönbrunn Zoo that, thanks to professional care and immense dedication, it had been possible to create such good conditions for the animals at Schönbrunn that now, almost all of the ten chameleon species has laid eggs."
In 1982, Austria joined the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES Convention) and, after joining the EU in 1995, the Council Regulation on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein also came into force. Through the Austrian Trade in Species Act of 2009, all enforcement action in terms of monitoring the trade in endangered species and plants was placed within the remit of the customs administration. Offences against the Act run the risk of criminal prosecution involving confiscation and monetary fines.
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