South Asian nations pledge cooperation on rampant wildlife trade
The region, home to such rare and prized species as tigers, Asiatic lions, snow leopards, Asian elephants and one-horned rhinoceroses, is recognized as one of the prime targets of international organized wildlife crime networks.
Wildlife trade officials from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka met in Kathmandu last week and defined a series of joint actions under the new South Asia Wildlife Trade Initiative (SAWTI).
The direction for the initiative was given by ministers from the eight nations, at the Tenth Meeting of Governing Council for the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) last year.
“The agreement reached on SAWTI puts in place the foundations for a cooperative effort to crack down on illegal trade and to improve the management of wild animals and plants that can be legally traded under national laws in the region,” said SACEP Director-General Dr Arvind A. Boaz.
SAWTI is charged with developing a South Asia Regional Strategic Plan on Wildlife Trade for the period 2008-2013. The Kathmandu workshop - organised by the Nepal Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, SACEP, WWF Nepal and TRAFFIC - also agreed on the establishment of a South Asia Experts Group on Wildlife Trade. The group will examine cooperation and coordination between countries and agencies, effective legislation, policies and law enforcement, the sustainability of the legal trade and livelihood security for those engaged in it, and improving intelligence networks and early warning systems.
“It is very encouraging to see this level of regional cooperation developing on a pernicious trade and criminal networks that harms species populations and robs communities of the benefits they could enjoy from their biodiversity," said WWF International’s Species Programme Director, Dr Sue Lieberman.
WWF Nepal’s Country Director, Anil Manandhar, said that the greatest challenge was combating the highly organised illegal trade networks between poachers, domestic traders and international traders of wildlife products, combined with highly porous borders between some countries. “No single nation can control such illegal activities alone," Manandhar said.
The Senior Officer, Anti-smuggling, fraud and organized crime, at the Secretariat for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mr John Sellar, also welcomed the Initiative. “We look forward to cooperating with SAWTI, which we believe offers considerable potential in combating illegal trade in wildlife, whilst also working to ensure that legal trade in wildlife is sustainable and benefits local communities in this part of the world.”
Global Programme Coordinator for the wildlife trade network TRAFFIC, Roland Melisch, said that international cooperation – and, in particular, regional cooperation – is absolutely essential in tackling the challenges of wildlife trade.
“TRAFFIC would certainly like to applaud the initiative of all the eight countries of South Asia in taking this important step of coming together as a region and seeking to jointly address the pressing issues of ensuring sustainable wildlife use and trade and eliminating the problem of illegal poaching and trade,” Melisch said.
Closing the workshop, Nepal’s Honourable Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, Farmullah Mansoor, confirmed the Government of Nepal’s commitment towards combating the illegal wildlife trade in the region. Nepal currently holds the chair position of SACEP.
"SAWTI is the first wildlife trade initiative of its kind in South Asia and SACEP is confident it will lead to further commitment in the region, and closer engagement among neighbours to effectively address wildlife trade problems," Dr Boaz concluded.
The South Asia region is rich in biological diversity, being home to over 15% of the world’s flora and 12% of its fauna, including some of the most endangered species in the planet such as the tiger, Asiatic lion, snow leopard, Asian elephant and one-horned rhinoceros. Because of this richness in biodiversity, South Asia has been one of the prime targets of international organized wildlife crime networks. For example, poaching has reduced Nepal's rhino population by more than 30 per cent. In one of the largest ever seizure of big cat skins in India, enforcement authorities in 2000 seized 4 tiger skins, 70 leopard skins, 221 blackbuck skins, 18,000 leopard claws, 150 kgs of leopard and tiger bone, 132 tiger claws, 2 leopard teeth and one dried leopard penis from poachers in Khaga in the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.
TRAFFIC is a key strategic partner in a number of similar regional efforts worldwide. This includes the inter-governmental Regional Action Plan and its Wildlife Enforcement Network that has been established by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the development of the European Community Action Plan on CITES Enforcement. TRAFFIC is also a member of the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), a global initiative comprising governments and non-governmental organisations and aimed at focussing public and political attention and resources on ending the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.
The decisions of this workshop will be presented for the endorsement at Ministerial level at the Eleventh Meeting of the Governing Council of SACEP taking place later this year in New Delhi, India.
For more information contact:
Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC International Tel: +44 (0) 1223 277427
Sanjib Chaudhary, Communications Officer, WWF Nepal. Tel: +977-1-4434820