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Field Visit: Dulles Wildlife Inspector Office

Our wildlife policy team traveled to one of the outposts in the battle against wildlife trafficking—the Dulles International Airport’s Office of Law Enforcement Wildlife Inspector Office. Here, at this unassuming gateway, these officers spend their time investigating the illicit movements of endangered live wildlife and products.

An undeclared African elephant leather briefcase seized at the port

As policy staff, we often deliberate in offices, distanced from the gritty reality of the field. Yet here, amidst the labyrinthine maze of shipping crates and manifestos, the urgency was palpable. Our eyes were opened to the complex dynamics that traffickers exploit, insights that could never be replicated in an abstract report. A special agent led us through an inspection of a shipment from Lagos, Nigeria. He and other staff methodically examined each pallet of boxes for undeclared and/or illegal wildlife.

Undeclared coral jewelry

Why does this matter? Because the regulations we implement don’t exist in a vacuum. They are the invisible hand guiding these inspectors’ actions. Every loophole we miss is a gateway for exploitation; every stringent rule we interpret multiplies their arsenal. So, this visit wasn’t just educational—it was an ethical imperative for the protection of biodiversity. We weren’t just observing; we were absorbing the complex ecosystem of this battleground to implement policies that don’t just look good on paper but leap off the page to make a tangible impact.

Today’s visit underscored that the act of policymaking is inextricably linked to the lives and challenges of those who are the frontline protectors at America’s ports of entry of our planet’s most vulnerable creatures. In grasping the minutiae of their daily struggles, we are better equipped to design policies that are not merely reactive, but proactively empower those who stand as our last line of defense against wildlife trafficking.

Seized crocodile, elephant, and sea turtle leathers
Seized worked and raw ivory, and leopard skin products
Seized hawksbill sea turtle, crocodile, and zebra skin products

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