War against wildlife crime in Southeast Asia gets power boost

ASEAN is boosting its efforts to put an end to the illegal trade by engaging wildlife non-government organisations and frontline officers in Thailand.
Arglit Boonyai Channel NewsAsia 15 Dec 15;

BANGKOK: The battle against wildlife crime has long been plagued by low public awareness, poor funding and weak laws.

Now the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly is boosting its efforts to put an end to the illegal trade by engaging wildlife non-government organisations (NGO) and frontline officers in Thailand.

Labelled a non-traditional security threat by ASEAN, wildlife crime does not draw the same attention or outrage as terrorism or drug smuggling. Yet it is an industry that generates up to US$20 billion in profit a year, according to conservative estimates by wildlife NGO Freeland Foundation.

“It’s extremely important that ASEAN gets on top of the illegal wildlife trade or it’s going to be too late,” said Steve Galster, Freeland’s founder and executive director.

Regional governments do not have the budgets or legal framework to stop wildlife crime. Ranger squads are generally undermanned and lacking the budgets and equipment to patrol vast areas of forest, and are also often outgunned by the very poachers that they are sent to catch.

To help solve the problem, several parties with a part to play in fighting this illicit industry, including NGOs, parliamentarians from ASEAN member states and rangers from several Southeast Asian countries, recently met in Thailand's Petchaburi province.

“Our main problems are we don’t have the support or equipment for us to face the problems we encounter each day. We don’t have the weaponry, food or even manpower that we need,” said park ranger Kasidis Chanpradub.

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) has sent delegates into the field to get a better understanding of these problems and to create a common regional mechanism that will allow for the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a 1973 treaty for wildlife protection.

‘LONG PROCESS’

Wildlife crime is especially relevant in South East Asia.

Not only does the region contribute to the global trade, it also acts as a transit point between source countries in Africa and consumer countries in East Asia.

AIPA delegate and Philippine MP Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba said she believes that greater harmonisation of legislation across ASEAN is needed, but it will be a lengthy exercise.

“We are trying to update each other about our existing laws on wildlife protection and what proposed bills are pending, legislative measures and amendments that we want to propose. It’s a long process, but a good start,” she said.

This joint venture will be especially important, once the ASEAN Economic Community comes into effect in the new year, potentially making it easier for smugglers to transport goods across borders.

“There has been talk within AIPA to strengthen laws. Now, especially as they are going to breakdown their trade barriers and become one community, it’s extremely important that they hurry up, because it’s just going to make it easier to cross borders with wildlife,” Mr Galster said.

This meeting has renewed hope that there is high level support from politicians and people that hold the purse strings to make significant inroads in the war on wildlife crime.

- CNA/jb

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