By Steven Galster
Disaster looms over wildlife protection in the region, with weak laws likely to continue in force as the Asean Economic Community comes into effect With the Asean Economic Community (AEC) coming into effect in just over a year, the need for proper national regulatory frameworks to combat wildlife crime is becoming increasingly urgent. Each year, billions of dollars in illegally obtained wildlife (including endangered mammals, fish and timber) move across borders, often via international crime networks. Southeast Asia is a global hotspot for wildlife crime and a regional transportation hub for protected wildlife and wildlife products destined for consumer markets in China and Vietnam.
The borders throughout Asean suffer from uneven enforcement, loopholes and weak penalties for violators of crimes such as wildlife trafficking. Law enforcers are also missing opportunities to apply non-wildlife laws to organised wildlife criminals, such as money laundering and tax evasion offences. Recent programmes led by regional anti-wildlife trafficking body Asean-WEN (Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network) have helped increase law enforcement actions by as much as tenfold. However, prosecutions and convictions are not occurring at the level and frequency necessary to disrupt and dismantle the criminal syndicates profiting from illegal trade in wildlife. Government officials have their hands tied without the backing of strong laws and proper application of existing legislation.
"Asean-WEN national task forces and agencies reported 943 actions against wildlife traffickers from 2008-2012, confiscating wildlife worth an estimated US$89.83 million on the black market, and arresting at least 1,211 suspects. From 2008-2012 task forces reported convictions of 110 wildlife smugglers," said Manop Lauprasert, chief of Asean-WEN's secretariat in Bangkok.
"This trafficking problem has posed serious implications not only for national security and the environment, but has also threatened human welfare and security. Strong laws coupled with strengthened law enforcement capacity and efforts in the region can address this security concern," added Manop, who was director of Thailand's CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Office prior to his appointment as secretariat chief of Asean-WEN. More....