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“Tracking the wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia”

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    4th Mar, 2020

According to the recently released report ‘Southeast Asia: At the heart of wildlife trade’by TRAFFIC

Context

According to the recently released report ‘Southeast Asia: At the heart of wildlife trade’by TRAFFIC, a new strategy is urgently needed to curb wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s biggest biodiversity hotspots.

Background:

  • Wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth-largest illegal trade after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting. It is valued up to US$26 billion per year. 
  • Asia is an epicentre for wildlife trafficking. 
  • Southeast Asia is home to many iconic species. It is also a poaching hotspot.
  • Animals are killed and trafficked in all forms: baby orangutans are captured to be sold as pets, tiger parts are used in medicine and turtle shells are used for ornaments.

Analysis

The Hotspot:

  • Southeast Asia is composed of eleven countries of impressive diversity in religion, culture and history: Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Renowned not only for its animal and plant species richness but also for cultural, linguistic, political and religious diversity, Southeast Asia encompasses a range of actors that all rely in some way upon wildlife resources.
  • This region covers four of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots, forming some of the world’s most biodiverse geographical regions with high species endemism:
    • Indo-Burma
    • the Philippines
    • Sundaland
    • Wallacea
  • Southeast Asia, with the world’s highest per-country proportion of endemic birds and mammals in a tropical region, also has the highest proportion of threatened birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Key-highlights of the Report:

  • The report titled‘Southeast Asia: At the heart of wildlife trade’ recognised and analysed thousands of successful seizures across the ten ASEAN countries in recent years, focusing on some of the most traded groups of terrestrial animals. 
  • Authors of the report noted that the statistics comprised only seizures and was just a fraction of the true magnitude of illegal wildlife trade in the region.
  • The trafficking of over 895,000 pangolins during 2000-2019, 225,000 kg of African Elephant ivory during 2008-2019, 100,000 pig-nosed turtles during 2003-2019 and 45,000 songbirds seized during 2018-2019 were just a small part of the illegal trade conducted across the region.
  • Organised criminal networks aided by wildlife cybercrime, poor market regulation, inadequate laws and dismal conviction rates allow illegal trade to flourish.
  • Local circumstances, widespread corruption and a lack of political will were also responsible for the thriving of such trade in the 10 countries.

TRAFFIC:

TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. 

It aims to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature

Why Southeast Asia is at the ‘target’?

  • Southeast Asia, perhaps more than any other region, encapsulates the full range of global challenges facing the management of biodiversity and trade in wildlife.
  • Large disparities: Political and socio-economic disparities are large. The rapid development of infrastructure, often backed by foreign investments, and land conversion continues to challenge the region’s biodiversity hotspots.
  • High number of illegal activities: Levels of poaching, trafficking and consumption of wildlife products in Southeast Asia are persistent, if not increasing. The region’s endemic species and local populations of more widely distributed taxa remain under severe threat from hunting and illegal trade.
  • Global connected trade: The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) function as source, consumer and as entrepôts for wildlife coming from within the region as well as the rest of the world—for trade that is both legal and illegal, with many inadequacies and loopholes concerning regulation, law enforcement and overall levels of sustainability.

Why this trade is increasing?

  • These categories of trade and demand broadly involve:
    • species that are protected and prohibited from national or international commercial trade
    • species that can be traded nationally or internationally, and for the latter, where national regulatory controls should frame implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for any international commerce of CITES-listed species
    • species that are not protected domestically but national and international trade occurs with little or no regulatory controls, often in large volumes and in violation of CITES provisions
  • This globally connected trade feeds demand for wild animals, parts and products for use as trophies and trinkets (or luxury goods), traditional medicine (TM) ingredients (including formal prescriptions and informal ‘health tonics’), and the multi-billion-dollar live animal trade.

Key species/groups

CITES Appendix

IUCN Status

Bears

Asiatic black bear

I

Vulnerable

Sun Bear

Elephants

African Elephant

I/II

Vulnerable

Asian Elephant

I

Endangered

Pangolins

Asian Pangolin

I

Critically Endangered/Endangered

African Pangolin

I

Vulnerable

Rhinoceros

Asian Rhinoceros

I/II

Critically Endangered/Vulnerable

African Rhinoceros

I/II

Critically Endangered/Near Threatened

Antelope

Saiga Antelope

II

Critically Endangered

Capricornis

Sumatran Serow

I

Vulnerable

Chinese Serow

I

Near Threatened

Asian Big Cat

Tiger

I

Critically Endangered/ Endangered

Leopard/Clouded Leopard

I

Vulnerable

Birds

Helmeted Hornbill

I

Critically Endangered

African Grey Parrot

I

Endangered

Songbirds & other

Various

Various

Frogs & Newts

 

Lao Warty Newt

II

Vulnerable

Indian Bullfrog

I

Least Concern

Tortoise &Freshwater Turtle

Ploughshare Tortoise

I

Critically Endangered

Radiated Tortoise

I

Critically Endangered

Black Spotted Turtles

I

Vulnerable

Indian Star Tortoise

I

Vulnerable

Pig-nosed Turtle

II

Vulnerable

Southeast Asian Box Turtle

II

Vulnerable

Philippine Forest turtle

Not listed

Critically Endangered

Lizards & snakes

Reticulated Python

Various

Not assessed

Water Monitor Lizard

II

Least Concern

Earless Monitor Lizard

I

Not assessed

Oriental Rate Snake

II

Not assessed

Tokay Gecko

II

Not assessed

 Wildlife Trafficking in India:

  • Over the years illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a form of Organised Transnational Crime that has threatened the existence of many wild species across the globe.
  • In India, it includes diverse products including mongoose hair; snake skins; Rhino horn; Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers; Elephant tusks; deer antlers; shahtoosh shawl; turtle shells; musk pods; bear bile; medicinal plants; timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias etc.
  • A large part of this trade is meant for the international market and has no direct demand in India.
    • Legal & policy framework:
  • India has a strong legal and policy framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade.
    • Trade-in over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivative is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • India is also a member of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) since 1976.

Intergovernmental frameworks governing wildlife trade in Southeast Asia

  • CITES:
    • CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
    • CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species listed on Appendices to certain controls.
    • CITES has the sole purpose of regulating commercial international trade in wildlife to prevent species from becoming both economically and ecologically extinct due to illegal and/or unsustainable trade.
    • Trade is regulated through listing species in one or more of three appendices.
    • Implementation can prohibit (Appendix I/III) or regulate (Appendix II/III) trade in listed species, based on export, import or re-export permits.
  • AWG CITES-WE & ASEANAPOL:
    • Under ASEAN, a number of intergovernmental law enforcement bodies have also been set up to deal with wildlife trafficking as part of a larger crime-tackling effort, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Expert Group on CITES Wildlife Enforcement (AWG CITES-WE and the ASEAN Chiefs of National Police (ASEANAPOL).
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):
    • The UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime (GP) aims to link existing regional efforts in a global system, enhancing capacity-building and wildlife law enforcement networks at regional and sub-regional levels.
  • The World Customs Organization (WCO)
    • Promoting increased awareness and capacity for customs around the world to counter wildlife and timber trafficking
  • International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC)
    • ICCWC’s mission is to strengthen criminal justice systems and provide coordinated support at the national, regional and international level to combat wildlife and forest crime.
  • United Nations General Assembly (UNGA):
    • Main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 193 Member States of the UN, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of international issues including peace and security.

Recommendations

  • A selection of priority interventions to support strategic decision-making and actions by ASEAN governments and other partners have been drawn from the breadth of existing literature reviewed for this assessment. These interventions are grouped under five main thematic areas as follows:
    • Policy: interventions focused on ensuring that national legal frameworks and regulations are fit for purpose and that it considers trends on illegal wildlife trade over time and is improved accordingly to prevent and deter wildlife traffickers;
    • Law enforcement:interventions where frontline law enforcement authorities and the judiciary can optimise their impact for the disruption of wildlife trafficking;
    • Demand reduction:interventions aiming to influence the purchasing preferences, buyer behaviour and use, by current and intending consumer groups;
    • Cross-sector co-operation: interventions where external parties such as the private sector and professional bodies (anti-money laundering, financial investigation), civil society organisations, conservation practitioners and research institutions can assist and facilitate effective actions;
    • Research gaps:interventions to address knowledge gaps to improve anti-wildlife trafficking decisions and policy
  • The report reinforces the position and significance of southeast Asia’s footprint on biodiversity use and management. Policy interventions, closing legal loopholes, law enforcement and co-operation between civil society organisations, the private sector and government organisations can help to curb illegal trade.
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