Wildlife Crime Fight Needs Global Effort
BANGKOK Wildlife crime is a global threat, and nations outside Southeast Asia, a major hub for the illegal trade, must do their part to curb demand, Thai Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said on Wednesday.
"This is not a regional problem anymore. It is a global problem," Suwit said in an interview on the sidelines of a U.N. wildlife conference in Bangkok.
A Southeast Asian initiative announced this week showed the region was committed to fight the multibillion dollar illegal trade in animals and plants, but 10 nations cannot do it alone, he said.
"I think this is the starting point at the regional level, and we want to expand to a global scale as well," said Suwit, whose country is hosting a meeting of members of the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Asia is an international hotspot for the illegal trade in endangered plants and animals, driven mostly by China, where demand from restaurants, medicine shops, and private collectors has surged along with the nation's wealth.
Two Chinese cities, Shanghai and Shenzhen, consume more than 1,600 tons of turtles each year, much of it from Southeast Asia. China is also the biggest driver of an illegal ivory trade, with Thailand a key transit point for illicit shipments from Africa.
"The Chinese delegation have expressed their intention that they want to work on conservation and wildlife. I'm sure the Chinese will be working with us," Suwit said.
Law enforcement experts say the battle against trafficking rings, some of them linked to organized crime and drugs, is being lost due to lax enforcement.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledged for the first time this week to share intelligence, review weak laws, and tighten borders in a region that accounts for one-quarter of the global illegal trade.
"We have to break the rings. We cannot allow them to trade illegally as it is now. We are trying to break the rings in Thailand, but internationally it is a big problem," Suwit said.
Thailand's record on wildlife crimes has come under scrutiny at the two-week CITES meeting, which ends on Thursday.
Most prominently, conservationists want Bangkok to speed up tests on more than 100 orangutans believed to have been smuggled into the country from Indonesia by a private zoo.
Suwit said the government was still waiting for the results of DNA tests on the orange-haired apes, and the case would be handled according to CITES rules.
"It's now in the process of law. When the process is done we will use CITES rules and regulations in handling this case," he said.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra issued a call to arms last week, when he urged the creation of a regional law enforcement network akin to Interpol and offered to host a summit on the issue next year.
Suwit said Bangkok would host workshops to hammer out the details of the ASEAN action plan before deciding on a summit.
"After the workshops are done and if we think a summit is important, then we will move to that next step," he said.
A key challenge for ASEAN will be the capacity of impoverished members such as Cambodia and Laos to ramp up the fight against wildlife crime. Tiny, landlocked Laos became a CITES member in June, the last ASEAN nation to join the treaty, but conservationists say it will need help to make a serious dent in the trade flowing through it.
"That is an issue of concern. Poverty is an issue that has dampened enforcement cooperation among countries. I think we will have to help," Suwit said.