Asian countries commit to tackling wildlife crime at second annual meeting

The three-day Second Annual Meeting of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) culminated today in Kathmandu, Nepal, where the eight South Asian countries finalized and endorsed the SAWEN Statute and updated their collaborative roadmap for fighting wildlife crime in South Asia.

Strengthening transboundary cooperation and collaboration for intra-country law enforcement initiatives through intelligence sharing on poaching and trade trends, along with exchanging knowledge and skill for fighting wildlife crime across South Asia” was the unequivocal concern of the representatives of the South Asian countries at this meeting that was held from 26-29 August 2014.

This push from the SAWEN member countries places the region firmly in the spotlight of a growing international commitment to dealing with increasingly organised illegal wildlife trade networks as part of a broader strategic approach to combat trans-national organised crime.

The meeting was particularly successful in adopting the SAWEN Statute and beginning an intense process for developing an action plan for the next six years. The Statute clearly details the vision, goal, objectives and the crucial role that SAWEN will play in combating wildlife crime in the region. The Statute, endorsed by member country delegates to the meeting, will now await the final endorsement from the Governments of the eight South Asian countries.

Delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, joined various inter-governmental organizations, international and regional organizations working on matters of wildlife trade and international policies. A number of international donors including the World Bank, USAID and the US Department of State participated in this meeting.

Expert input was provided by the international community in support of the eight member countries and the SAWEN Secretariat. This included INTERPOL, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), The World Bank, TRAFFIC, WWF Tigers Alive Initiative and WWF-Nepal.

The meeting provided a practical platform for sharing experiences, discussing common issues, reviewing performances, and enhancing collaboration with various partners and donors for combating wildlife crime in the region. This included lessons learned by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network and suggestions from the CITES Management Authority of China in terms of collaboration and support to SAWEN.

Mr Megh Bahadur Pandey, Chief Enforcement Coordinator of SAWEN said at the meeting: “Minimizing illegal wildlife trade from South Asia is crucial to the conservation of wildlife in the region. Countries cannot fight highly organized and globalized wildlife crimes in isolation and need to collaborate and cooperate with other countries and partners”.

He further added: “We are overwhelmed to see the support that has come from all South Asian countries and international partners to strengthen the initiatives of SAWEN and helping it achieve its mandate. The approved Statute will allow it to work as an independent institution working in tandem with the goals and objectives of the eight South Asian countries for fighting wildlife crime”.

Dr S.S. Garbyal, Director General of Forest and Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, who chaired several important sessions during the meeting said: “India recognizes the threats illegal wildlife trade poses to the unique and rich biodiversity of South Asia and is committed to supporting the initiatives taken by SAWEN to deal with wildlife crime at a regional level.”

Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC in India illustrated the roles that NGOs like TRAFFIC can play in collecting targeted information to assist law enforcement agencies to dismantle rhino poaching rings in India and prevent poaching and trade in this endangered species.

Dr Niraj further commented: “The SAWEN Statute should allow the network to evolve with certainty into an effective platform to share information in a timely and effective manner for dedicated actions between the eight member countries to combat illegal wildlife trade.”

The Second Annual Meeting was jointly organized by the SAWEN Secretariat in collaboration with the Government of Nepal, with the support of INTERPOL (through financial support from USAID), TRAFFIC (through financial support from US Department of State), Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), and WWF Nepal.

Guest contributor:

Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist for the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in the Times of India, The New York Times, Statesman, Asian Age, Montreal Serai and the Hindu. Ghosh has been active in animal protection issues since the early nineties and has been a member and supporter of several animal protection organizations, among them Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Born Free Foundation, People For Animals, WWF and Beauty Without Cruelty. He currently works in the WWF India Headquarters in New Delhi.

Photo credit: Police in China seize pangolins.

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