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A United Stand

South Asia rallies together to fight illegal wildlife trade

Experts from seven countries laid the foundation for a South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) as a coordinated regional response to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking at a special meeting convened in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu this week. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed to establish a secretariat and an outline work plan for the new network.

South Asia contains a range of global significant ecosystems that support a unique array of species like tigers and other Asian big cats, rhinos, marine and freshwater turtles, pangolins and freshwater dolphins. This rich biodiversity also makes the region a major target for poachers and wildlife traffickers.

Illegal wildlife trade is increasingly characterised by organised criminal syndicates working in more than one country. It involves transboundary landscapes and habitats, movements of people and wildlife parts and products across porous borders.

Tigers are among the most vulnerable because of a persistent global demand that continues to empty Asia’s forests. There are possibly as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild and tiger trafficking is one of the key threats to their survival along with habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Illegal wildlife trade takes a toll on species, local communities, national and regional security,” said Crawford Allan of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “Getting governments to recognize the scale of the problem was the first step that led to the formation of SAWEN to help wildlife law enforcement agencies become better organized and more effective than the criminal networks.” 

As a major step towards a coordinated and collaborative mechanism, the participants agreed on a structure, functions and operational parameters for SAWEN. Strategies based on strong cooperation between various government bodies dealing with wildlife crime were also emphasised.

In the closing address, Minister Deepak Bohara from Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Soil noted, “Cooperation and coordination between the government agencies supported by their international counterparts is of utmost importance to effectively tackle illegal wildlife trade in the region.”

The Nepali government will act as an interim coordinator and host SAWEN as the network focuses on key information and resources to develop joint operations, training, and raise funds in the next six months.

“WWF welcomes the outcomes of this meeting and looks forward to working with the SAWEN in the coming months to ensure the success of this crucial initiative,” said Diwakar Chapagain, WWF Nepal’s Wildlife Trade Manager in Nepal. “We appreciate the leadership shown by the Government of Nepal and the support from TRAFFIC International.”

The first meeting of the South Asia experts group on illegal wildlife trade was hosted by the Government of Nepal, supported by WWF and TRAFFIC with funding provided by the U.S. Department of State. The participants benefitted from the additional expertise of International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, ICPO-Interpol, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Customs Organization. The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network also provided lessons learned from a similar process of intergovernmental action against illegal wildlife trade.