Network Aims to Become First "Wildlife Interpol"

tiger Police and customs officials across Southeast Asia have joined forces to fight illegal international wildlife trade, according to a May 25 announcement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Wildlife trade—including the smuggling of animal skins, animal parts, and live specimens—is currently the third largest sector of the black market after drugs and arms, according to Suvat Singhapant, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

ASEAN-WEN was formed last December, but only now have police and customs officials become key participants in the effort. With growing collaboration among law enforcement officials and CITES representatives, the network will be better equipped to minimize illegal wildlife trade, said John Sellar, Senior Enforcement Officer with CITES. But “[t]here is still some way to go before this network is a true wildlife Interpol,” Sellar noted.

Representatives from ASEAN and regional police and customs services convened in Bangkok in late May to create plans for specialized wildlife crime task forces in individual countries that ultimately will collaborate across international borders. They were joined by officials from Interpol, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, CITES, and the Chinese government. According to CITES, the annual trade in live animals and plants and wildlife products is worth billions of dollars and often includes endangered species. Wildlife crime is especially high in Southeast Asia due to the region’s rich biological diversity.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.