Wildlife Trade - Training of Customs Officer

  • Period: Feburary 2002 - July 2008


Wildlife trade issues have been a heated topic in the UAE for some time. Several species of endangered animals have been found on Middle Eastern markets. Trade of species like cheetahs, gazelles, bustards, monkeys, reptiles and exotic rare birds species have focused attention of the international conservation community on the UAE and region.

UAE has been a CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) signatory since 1990, and today there continues to be a national willingness for proper implementation of the convention.

However, the implementation, enforcement and monitoring of compliance to CITES needs continuous attention and improvement to keep endangered species out of trade for good. Enforcement officers, and in particular customs officers, need specialized training to develop appropriate response mechanisms to regulate and control a trade that is detrimental both for the future of many species, and the reputation of the UAE.

EWS-WWF continues to work closely with the UAE CITES authorities, enforcement agencies, and partners to improve upon the integrated response mechanism as well as to further improve capacity to address wildlife trade issues.

The UAE signed the CITES agreement in 1990. At the time the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (now called the Ministry of Environment and Water)was designated as the CITES Management Authority and Scientific Authority for the UAE.

However, numerous problems arose that were associated with the implementation and enforcement of CITES in the UAE. This brought international attention to the UAE and the country was identified as the centre of trade for several endangered and protected species.

The local media also became increasingly interested in, and aware of, violations of wildlife trade laws and regulations. A number of articles were published, bringing the issues to public attention. These reports exposed, amongst other things, the sale of tiger skins, the open selling of chimpanzees and other primates in the pet shops, and the transit of ivory through the UAE on its way to the Far East.

Wildlife trade is one of the main causes of animals and plants extinction in the wild. However, it generates billions of dollars worldwide and is thus extremely difficult to control and curb. In addition, there are a number of challenges faced when regulating wildlife trade controls. Proper enforcement requires trained staff at different levels of intervention, integrated legislation, quarantine and health inspectors, and rescue and rehabilitation centres.

CITES requires national legislation to be in place for it to be effectively enforced. This has recently been achieved in UAE with a new law coming into effect in 2003. However, awareness efforts now need to be addressed to make those involved in wildlife trade, as well as the general public, knowledgeable and conscious of the new legal status.

  1. Identify clear administrative procedures and define the role of relevant agencies.
  2. Increase awareness of the general public with outreach efforts.
  3. Continue to provide training workshops and produce training material for local customs officials in need of in-depth training on CITES.
  4. Create Identification Manuals in the Arabic language for use of CITES authorities, customs and inspectors 
  5. Monitor the efficiency and progress of CITES in the UAE.
  6. Create grassroots support for CITES in the UAE.
Over the last 2 years of the CITES project, the officers of the Management and Scientific Authorities for the UAE have been educated and trained in implementing appropriate response mechanisms in order to control and regulate a trade that is detrimental for the future of many species, as well as the reputation of the UAE.

However, further training and support is imperative if CITES is to be effectively enforced by the UAE. One critical aspect is the training of customs officers at the entry points. There are over 20 entry points in the UAE (airports, seaports and roads) and customs officials are the first to be controlling any import/export from the UAE.

Their understanding of CITES and wildlife trade is therefore extremely important as other CITES management authorities do not have the potential to control all entry points. A special effort should be made to educate the customs officers, their management in the basic wildlife trade issues and CITES as well as to establish clear, enforceable coordination measures between Customs, Management and Scientific Authorities, and the Police.

Main Achievements
The CITES Wildlife Trade project was able to successfully achieve the training of customs officers and local authorities through a comprehensive workshop facilitated by the CITES Secretariat in Fujairah, UAE. During this workshop, the newly created identification manuals were used for practical and technical application.

The manuals were distributed by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (as main sponsor and UAE CITES Scientific Authority) to authorities throughout the UAE.

This work has been commended by the CITES Secretariat and the UAE is now seen as a country that was able to turn itself around from non-implementation and a trade ban to now being a recognized member country of CITES with clear legislation and implementation measures in place.

Future Plans
Although the official CITES project has been successfully completed, EWS-WWF still remains in the wildlife trade scene and acts as an advisor and monitoring agency for CITES in the UAE. EWS-WWF also supports the activities of the WWF Global Species Programme and acts as implementer for the Gulf region. Future activities will include the upcoming CITES CoP that will be held in March 2010 for the first time in the Middle East, in Qatar.
Snow leopard pelt seized by Dubai Customs in January 2004.

Customs Capacity Building

  • Duration: 2007 - 2008
  • Sponsor: Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
  • Partners: CITES Secretariat (Geneva), UAE CITES authorities and enforcement agencies in all emirates


  • March 2002 - The first CITES capacity building training is held in Dubai for UAE government officials
  • September 2002 - CITES Awareness report and Pet Shop Survey for Abu Dhabi & Dubai was completed by EWS-WWF
  • May 2005 - EWS-WWF and Environment Canada signed agreement for replication of species identification manuals
  • March 2003 - CITES Informational workshop for pet shop owners and traders was held in Dubai
  • April 23 – 24, 2007 - Fujairah Training workshop in identification of CITES species for customs authorities and ‘train the trainer’
  • October 2003 - Comprehensive CITES/wildlife trade folders are created and distributed to key government and authorities
  • March 2008 - CITES identification guides (Arabic) printed

Project Sponsors

    •  Environment Agency Abu Dhabi