A new chapter in South Asian regional cooperation for strengthening wildlife law enforcement began with the formal launch of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network, which was announced at an inter-governmental meeting in Bhutan in January 2011.
“SAWEN is a powerful signal that South Asia is ramping up efforts to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade in the region,” said Shubash Lohani, WWF’s deputy director of the Eastern Himalayas. “Illegal wildlife trade does not exist in a vacuum and if it continues unabated we risk losing species like rhinos and tigers, jeopardizing local livelihoods, and in the bigger picture, affecting the delicate natural ecosystems that make this corner of our living planet so unique and irreplaceable.”
South Asia is home to a diverse network of natural ecosystems and varied biodiversity. While flagship species like tigers, elephants and rhinos are extremely vulnerable to poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, a variety of medicinal plants, timber, marine species, birds and reptiles are also threatened by illegal exploitation and trafficking.
International criminal networks run vast operations linking poachers to consumers through complex illegal systems. The newly established SAWEN will help eight South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) to tackle illegal wildlife trade through organized and coordinated actions on a regional scale.
“SAWEN will help Bhutan to link up with authorities and officials across the region to share good practices and resources to cooperate and co-ordinate actions to apprehend poachers and traffickers,” said Lyonpo (Dr) Pema Jamtsho, Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture and Forests speaking at the meeting.
The launch of SAWEN brought together experts from the governments of South Asia member countries, the United States Department of State, inter-governmental organizations including the CITES Secretariat and INTERPOL, and non-governmental organizations including WWF and TRAFFIC.
A plan for joint activities, some of which will begin immediately, governance and operational structure, and the need for strategic collaboration on communications and fundraising were all discussed at a meeting hosted by the government of Bhutan, with support from TRAFFIC and WWF.
“In 2004 I facilitated the first South Asia meeting that identified the need for SAWEN, so this has been a long time coming and more than ever we need strong and coordinated wildlife law enforcement to urgently protect tigers, rhinos and other precious species that are being illegally shot and snared to trade in their body parts,” said Crawford Allan of TRAFFIC.
TRAFFIC has also provided technical support to SAWEN since its inception and acknowledges the generous funding support of the U.S. Department of State.