National Geographic : 2004 Mar
GEOGRAPHICA packaged as caviar. With backup from the lab, agents run sting operations to catch traffickers in illegally harvested or fraudu lently marketed fish eggs. In one case perpetrators were hit with a 10.4-million-dollar fine, the largest fine ever imposed in a wildlife crime case. The lab also used DNA to help make a case against a butcher shop in Illinois accused of selling tiger meat. The meat was labeled as lion, which is legal to sell in the U.S. (tigers are endangered, lions are not), but DNA tests revealed that it was tiger. Over the past decade there's been a boom in the import of exotic animal parts that immi grant communities in the U.S. traditionally use in ceremonies or for medicinal purposes. African bush meat such as monkey, eaten during rituals, fetches high prices on the black market. To help identify meat from primates animals known to carry HIV and other deadly microbes-lab technicians collected DNA sam ples from the paws of monkeys and apes that lived and died in zoos (above). The resulting DNA catalog provides a ready refer ence to help solve future cases. Black bears have fallen prey to UVIU McL IIrv ( oUi hunters hoping to cash in on the market for bear gallbladders, which are prized in Asia for treating a host of ills, from liver disease to hemorrhoids. Hunters typically remove only the gall bladder and leave the rest of the bear-ample evidence for the lab to link a culprit to the crime. Often agents get a tip from informants that, for instance, a hunter has made an illegal kill in a national park. The agents locate the kill and any shell cas ings left behind (below, shown with a confiscated illegally imported polar bear skin), then ship any remains containing bul lets to the lab, where ballistics '^IW NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * MARCH 2004 analysis can lead to the killer. Agents working undercover to snare offenders can find themselves in dicey situations, particularly with cash stakes so high (list below). One agent posing as a hauler of lions and tigers had to watch as his con tacts shot the big cats: Unarmed himself, he could have been their next victim. But he man aged to get evidence critical to breaking up the criminal ring. "We realize there are dangers in what we do," says agent Santel. "But because of the passion we have for our work, we don't think about it, we just do it." -David Diamond Big-Ticket Animalia $175,000 Paid for an albino arowana fish, believed in Asia to bring good luck. $60,000 Cost in Yemen for a kilo of black rhino horn, used to make ceremonial daggers. $30,000 Price on U.S. black mar ket for a live Komodo dragon. $30,000 Paid in Asia for the carcass of a Siberian tiger. WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Tofind out more about subjects covered in Geo graphica, go to nationalgeographic.com/ magazine/resources/0403.