Experts from seven countries have laid the foundation for a South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) as a coordinated regional response to combat illegal poaching and trafficking.
This week, experts from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed during a special meeting in Nepal to establish a secretariat and an outline work plan for the new network.
South Asia contains a range of habitats of global significance that support a unique array of animal and plant species such as tigers and other Asian big cats, rhino, marine and freshwater turtles, pangolins and Red Sanders. However, this rich biodiversity makes it a major target for poachers and wildlife traffickers.
This often involves trans-boundary landscapes and habitats, movements of people and goods across porous borders, and is increasingly characterised by organised criminal syndicates working in more than one country.
In particular, tigers are in the spotlight this year during the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar. There are possibly as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild and WWF is working this year to secure political commitments that will double the number of tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.
The historic First Meeting of the South Asia Experts Group on Illegal Wildlife Trade was convened with the objective of helping wildlife law enforcement agencies becoming better organised than the criminals they monitor. As a major step towards a co-ordinated and collaborative mechanism, the meeting's Experts Group agreed that an action-oriented approach under the newly formed SAWEN should be pursued without delay.
The experts agreed the structure, functions and operational parameters for SAWEN, including ideas for developing multi-lateral activities based on strong co-operation at the national level between the various government bodies dealing with wildlife crime, including police, customs and anti-corruption bodies, as well as wildlife rangers and park managers.
'Co-operation and co-ordination between the government agencies supported by their international counterparts is of utmost importance to effectively tackle illegal wildlife trade in the region,' said Hon. Mr Deepak Bohara, Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal, in his closing address.
The Government of Nepal has offered to drive this process further in hosting the network and acting as an interim co-ordinator for the network. During the next six months, it will focus on co-ordinating key information and identifying further resources and expertise from member countries to develop joint operations, training programs, communication plans and fundraising to enable the network to begin interdicting major trafficking activities. The Government of Bhutan has offered to host the next meeting of SAWEN members.
'WWF is pleased at the outcomes of the meeting and looks forward to working with the network in the coming months to ensure the success of this crucial initiative, 'said Mr. Diwakar Chapagain, Wildlife Trade Manager, WWF Nepal. 'We appreciate the leadership shown by the Government of Nepal and support by TRAFFIC International in organising this meeting.'
The First Meeting of the South Asia Experts Group on Illegal Wildlife Trade was hosted by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Govt. of Nepal, and supported by WWF Nepal and TRAFFIC International. Funding support for the meeting was provided by the U.S Government's Department of State.
The Experts Group also benefited from inputs from the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), including from ICPO-Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Customs Organisation. Experiences from the neighbouring South-east Asia region through the work of ASEAN's Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) was also valuable in providing lessons learned from a similar process of intergovernmental action against illegal wildlife trade.