Orchid Police?

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heliomum

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I read Orchid Fever which mentioned the orchid police. What are they? Are they like CITES agents? Are they run by the government? Do they even do anything anymore? And are they really as sinister as the book says? Do they really have files on people and watch people? From what the book says they sound like the CIA.:eek:
 

Candace

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I've heard they pose as newbies on forums and try to get you to say something incriminating.:rollhappy:
 
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heliomum

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Well if everyone's this reluctant I kind of have my question answered.
 
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heliomum

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Ok, I 'm not the orchid police. I was just curious what they were. And I can tell that apparently they are very scary if no one is answering this. So OK you don't have to answer this I was just curious.:eek:
 

Roth

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It's just a thinking that concept of "plant police". Actually, people are working for many different fields, plants, animals, wood... and some choose, with more or less happiness and skill, orchids, pandas, tiger penis as an investigation field. I have been a customs expert and teacher for many years actually, and I had to train customs people from many different countries, discuss with them...

Basically, the main problem is that they are poorly trained, those who have the knowledge are on the "other side" of the border for most of them.

Many will use CITES Guide to identification of orchids and this kind of crap, there was a guide by the University of Leiden about identification of paphiopedilum by the leaves, and identification of wild plants, the sources, conservation status. This guide is extremely rare, and I may well be one of the few individuals to have been presented a copy of it, about 50 pages.

What can be sorted out from that guide is that it has been made by "botanists". I have nothing against taxonomists or botanists, except that nearly all of them are exceedingly unknowledgeable about "real world of orchids". The variations within a species, how a precultivated wild plant looks like, the concept of "colonies", all of that is out of their mind, completely. And they are pretty sure that their dried herbarium specimens, and couple of plants in the "living collection" are matching the reality.

You end up with paph wardii has boldly tesselated leaves ( wrong, half of the wild plants have plain green leaves, no mottling), paph sanderianum is a 40 cm leafspan plant maximum, extremely rare and unlikely to be seen in numbers as wild plants (meaning, if there are 500 sanderianum with not too rough leaves, they cannot be from the wild!), and there are many, many mistakes. I have been working on a revised version of the guide, only to realize that if you do not grow orchids, as an enforcement officer, you are unlikely to understand the subtle differences between a plant of helenae and the dwarf coccineum, or between a paph lawrenceanum from the wild and a maudiae hybrid. And if you do, most likely, you have to be in contact with people from the "other side of the border", not good for your career...

In many of the highly publicized instances I can think of right now, whether Kovach, Azadehdel, Boscha Popow, regardless of the fact they had really illegal plants or not, those cases appeared only because they have been either careless or could be competitor later. Some people got a supply ( from Boscha Popow as an example, at a time the paphs were Appendix II, not I) of Chinese paphiopedilum, several hundreds plants of each species, and thereafter contacted the authorities to "blank" their stocks by giving their supplier. That was a matter of jealousy, unwillingness to have a competitor ( some small player take a stock like that and want to destroy their supplier, first knowing that their supplier will always have stock and sell to everyone, and second to destroy the competitors and have a monopoly), and they will push individuals officers. Of course, what they inform might be illegal (like the people who informed the Customs aboutSian Lim in England as well), BUT the main fact is that those informants first have a financial reward, second are not disturbed when selling their stock, third have a temporary monopoly, fourth increase the value of their investment. That's it and that's all.

Based on my experience with enforcement officers, most of them are humans and comprehensive. A hobbyist with some illegal plants will not have any problems. First, those officers understand that it's peanuts, second, that a hobbyist with few plants is not doing that for any kind of business. Same for the breeding stock of companies that do really make propagation. Remember that all the sands from Azadehdel have been recorded as illegal by the US Customs, but they choose to leave all those plants in the hands of their owner, because they were doing breeding and propagation ( sand Deep Pockets, Jacob's Ladder are such plants). On the other side, a shipment of wild sanderianum to Hawaii of 400 plants has been seized and prosecuted. That's a completely different matter, former was for artificial propagation, latter was just for buy and sell business.

The most dangerous people are few people who blatantly lie about the rarity of paphs. NO! Paphs are/were not rare in the wild. Paphiopedilum armeniacum is "on the verge of extinction" for the last 20 years according to some people. So where are those thousands of wild plants coming each year from ???

Paph. rothschildianum is extremely abundant in the wild, it is easy to find a collector to take 2000 plants in a week or so. I visited such places in Sabah, with few hundreds CLUMPS of roths, freshly collected. And so on for most species. Paph zieckianum is very common in the Arfak Mountains, hundreds of thousands of plants. Wentworthianum is common in Guadalcanal. I got a picture from a guy who advertised on the orchidmall for that species, he had some thousands plants freshly collected.

The real truth is that some people made alarming reports, that led to 2 disastrous consequences:

- Nearly no one trust that paphs are rare in the wild anymore.
- The prices are higher, so there is more demand
- There is no way to enforce CITES at present time correctly
- Huge stock are collected, for pot plant, and because some crazy people think that, being in demand, there is a lot of customers.

Result: sooner or later some species will really disappeared. Some start to, and not the ones we are thinking of. Paph. coccineum, Paph.hookerae, Paph. celebense are nearly extinct now. But not at all sanderianum, roth, micranthum, or armeniacum that are still plentiful.

People should not dream. Every single paph breeder in the world has "illegal" plants or plants of doubtful source. Some wil breed them, some will simply sell them. But the authorities know perfectly well that there are illegal plants around. They do not bother at all if those facts are not "public", and if those plants are well cared for, and used for breeding. Of course, there could be a couple individuals officers that are completely crazy, and potentially very dangerous, but they are very, very rare...

I met only 1 out of several hundreds. He did two things, first went to a garden center and seize all the paphiopedilum ( they are appendix I, right?), ask for the import CITES ( Pinnochio plants and the like from Holland, so no CITES), screw the director of the garden center ( 2 days in jail for investigation), and being screwed by his chief for doing that... He was moved to another job, control at an airport. Second time, 2 Paph delenatii in the suitcase of a passenger ( usually the customs never bother with something like that), he arrested the passenger, fined him some thousands euros, and sent him in preventive jail. That time he was fired of his job quickly...


One last thing, about the files, every single letter received by the customs has to be stamped, stored, and the facts in it recorded. Every informant declaration has to be recorded as well. Therefore some people have "huge files" at the customs of their country, that's completely true. No one can believe how many letters from informants per day the customs can receive. Now, whether they investigate or just store it because they are forced to store the information is another matter.

As a general basis, I would say that if the hobbyists do not do things that are too obvious, and NO, REALLY NO business ( selling a couple divisions or otherwise is perfectly fine, but not 20 plants of helenae as an example), the risks are virtually nonexistent. Think about all those illegal plants sold on ebay.com USA, how many buyers got problems ? I think none...
 

NYEric

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The CITES police are like the revinue agents of the prohibition. The zeal with which they pursue infractions varies between the individual agent. I was told by one vendor that the regulating people had hired a known criminal to break into his nursery to allow them to look for illegal plants. yes lots of hobbyist have non-legal plants though and unless your flaunting it out loud you shouldn't be bothered by the authorities.
 

likespaphs

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i'm not entirely sure, but here in the u.s., i think that the department of fish and wildlife are those who regulate it here.
 

smartie2000

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the police are free to look at our collections but they will have a hard time finding out what is non-legal. They don't have a clue what we are growing and what to point out in our collection. I am finding this is nonsense nowadays (or at least in Canada), otherwise we would be hearing more recent stories. "Orchid Smuggler" does make a good news report, if the enforcement officers are acute enough to catch them. I keep all my reciepts if they want to look at them.

The one story in Canada I read was a break into air cargo boxes stuffed with wild collected paphs, and that story was made in 2000 I think. It was a shipment to a good nursery too though I have not purchased from them yet. Lol the police had to bloom the plants at a conservatory before they could make a charge, b/c they couldn't ID them. Come on they were micranthums, bellatums, etc.

Where they do sieze plants is during the shipments at customs.

Also sometimes you can't buy a blooming sized paph species and know 100% it was not collected. Nurseries (even reputable ones) can grow it a little and it will look as healthy as their own, and some are collected very healthy looking as shown before.

Police should probably be more concerned about ppl growing weed. I wonder if anyone got checked for that yet.

Hey someone in USA posts his blooming hangianums on another forum. He did share pollen and hangianum are around. Now can the police point him out for me or are they even trying?...

I think to the grower it is more important to be ethical. Buy what you feel is ethical to have.

If police ever try to break into my house in the vicious way they did in 'Orchid Fever' They will be invading my human rights and I will take action.
 
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NYEric

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The problem is mostly in US because CITES enforcers interpretation of Vietnam's statement that no Cat I plants were legally released! All those plants are legal in Canada! One problem is that some plants were released before they were moved to CITES Cat. I and most people didn't keep receipts.
 

Roth

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The problem is mostly in US because CITES enforcers interpretation of Vietnam's statement that no Cat I plants were legally released! All those plants are legal in Canada! One problem is that some plants were released before they were moved to CITES Cat. I and most people didn't keep receipts.
For the Vietnamese paphs, it is actually half true. Vietnam governement has a 2 step system for export of orchids.

- Buying 200 hangianum in the streets is legal.
- There are a lot of licences to get for export, not only a phyto or whatever, but permit to export, permit to make business with a foreign company for wildlife, etc...

Furthermore, there are offices that issued export phytosanitary certificates for all the paphs species from Viet Nam, but the Vietnamese governement reclaimed those permits, on the basis that the office was not allowed to issue them. Same story in China actually.

No one completed it fully actually.

About the plants that were released before they were moved to CITES App I, it is true and wrong. when the paphs have been upgraded to App I, there was a 1 year (or 2 years???) timeframe where the commercial growers and the hobbyists could declare their plants to the authorities. Most Orchid societies, at least in Europe, did not inform their members. Only some commercial growers did it, and hide it, because they knew that it would be a valuable asset for the future. That was not fair...

On the plants that were imported before Cites App I, I am pretty sure there are not that many alive in the trade ( I do not speak about private or breeder collection).

And from the new species of paphs, apart from anitum that existed for years ( I remember AnTec had a picture of a beautiful anitum over 10-15 years ago!), the hangianum helenae tranlienianum etc... were unknown in cultivation when the paphs were upgraded to app I.

the police are free to look at our collections but they will have a hard time finding out what is non-legal. They don't have a clue what we are growing and what to point out in our collection.

Lol the police had to bloom the plants at a conservatory before they could make a charge, b/c they couldn't ID them. Come on they were micranthums, bellatums, etc.

Also sometimes you can't buy a blooming sized paph species and know 100% it was not collected. Nurseries (even reputable ones) can grow it a little and it will look as healthy as their own, and some are collected very healthy looking as shown before.

I think to the grower it is more important to be ethical. Buy what you feel is ethical to have.

If police ever try to break into my house in the vicious way they did in 'Orchid Fever' They will be invading my human rights and I will take action.
Some people from the customs are higly knowledgeable, I know about 10, and I trained several. But they will be highly discriminating, because they all understand the problem. Never touch the hobbyists, never touch the breeding stocks... and they can tell apart some groups of species easily.

About the bellatulum and micranthum, it is not laugheable. I have to explain from the inside how an expertise arise, so everyone will understand. It happened to me twice that the plants had to be bloomed to confirm ( delenatii !).

The plants are seized and it is found that they are partially precultivated. The expert makes a report that those are plants from the wild, precultivated. Fine...

Now the owner of the plants will claim that they are poorly grown pot-plant hybrids ( like in the Canada story). The case will be brought in front of a court, where the judge have NO CLUE about what people will be talking about. So, to avoid any risks, the only way is to wait until some plants bloom. Then the court gets a report:

- Plants are orchid species of that type ( picture attached), precultivated because the roots are this and that, and the leaves have damage.

Otherwise, maybe the owner will scream and complain that those plants are pot plant hybrids, the judge will be fed up, and will not do anything...


I was told by one vendor that the regulating people had hired a known criminal to break into his nursery to allow them to look for illegal plants. yes lots of hobbyist have non-legal plants though and unless your flaunting it out loud you shouldn't be bothered by the authorities.
I have been a customs expert and conciliator for over 10 years now, so I had a lot of cases, and have been asked by quite a lot of people from the "plant police". In many instances, I will have to shut up forever, but the evidences, the papers, and the tape records did NOT match at all what has been publicly said by those growers. Actually it never does. I can give 2 examples, because I happened to know the truth throught the enforcement agency on one side, and by myself on the other side, so I do not break any secret.

First, there has been this story of the poor guy that imported Paph sanderianum through Hawaii, 500 plants. Those were nursery raised and bred, etc... so those bastards of the "plant police" broke an honnest businessman. The truth is that he hired himself collectors in Sarawak, then paid a nursery to get CITES. There were gigantifolium that another man from Indonesia brought to Sarawak to put in the shipment, along with a CITES of course. All those plants were freshly wild collected, period.

Second, an "old" nusery that dealt in paphiopedilum from the Philippines. The owner was screaming like hell to whoever wanted to listen to him that those were "legacy vinage plants". Good proof: their nursery was sooooo old. Truth: he ordered 6000 plants from the Philippines few months before the customs seized them in his greenhouse. I have heard ( but of course I do not know if it is true or not :D) that he signed to the customs a paper acknowledging that he imported illegally all those plants, and was willing to pay a fine to stop the court case. Still, he comes around exhibitions and complains about the bastards of the customs that seized their vintage paphs...

No one must believe those people when they speak about their misery with the customs. No one is in the office when the same people have to explain what they did exactly.

One more point, many professionnal growers have a lot of awful stories that hobbyists got a "CITES Plant Police Raid" and got 2-3 plants seized; police in his home. I can say, on official behalf that it is FAKE. All the plants seized are reported to CITES Office in Geneva first, and I know that, apart from some express parcels seized with 30 plants ( and just a small fine, or no fine, paid by the receiver), all the "raids" concerned people that had first a lot of plants, second were dealing in those plants.

Why so awful stories ? It's easy. It raises the price, and makes the customers more willing to pay more, and in cash ( no invoice). Byebye the taxes ( in some countries, they can be pretty hefty !). All thoses stories are really, really fake ones.

I know of a couple stories where "hobbyists" got actually a "plant raid" in their greenhouses, but many professionnal growers use hobbyists to store the dirty collected plants, therefore the "hobbyists" are not exactly "hobbyists", but partners of a commercial business ( and get cash money out of that). Same for some others "hobbyists" that were doing a lot of business underground. The real hobbyists never had any single problem so far.
 

Gcroz

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A lot of great info in this post! It has been my understanding, as previously stated, that it is largely up to the individual officers. Ever had an ******* cop stop you for something minor and treat you like you were "Jack the Ripper" himself, meanwhile the last cop you met was a nice guy?

I currently have a CITES issue and decided the best course was a good offense. I've hired a lawyer and they are working with USDA/USFW to resolve the issue. The long and short of it is that, as my lwyer said, very few people approach the agencies for help in resolving the issues because they are scared. This keeps them in a state of clandestine illegal activity, which doesn't look good to authorities.

I'm sure I'll post what the end result of all this is, if anyone is inteested.
 

NYEric

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In many instances, I will have to shut up forever, but the evidences, the papers, and the tape records did NOT match at all what has been publicly said by those growers. Actually it never does.

No one must believe those people when they speak about their misery with the customs. No one is in the office when the same people have to explain what they did exactly.
Very informative as usual. However in my info. the issue was told to me by a commercial grower and I do not believe any of his plants ended up being seized. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time I guess. The problem is that too many people operate on different levels of morality. The foreign govt's should coordinate w/ US re: export/import so everyone could make a fair profit and world economic traden continue. Coca-Cola is made in a lot of places it is impossible for a US citizen to travel! :mad:
 
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Eric Muehlbauer

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The case that NYEric is talking about is tied in to the infamous Cycad bust that involved one of the big Colombian growers...forget the name in an Alzheimer's moment......I thing the burglar was also involved in the cycad case...it was written up in the NY Times Magazine a few years ago. Eric
 

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