The three-day Second Annual Meeting of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) ended here Friday with a call for strengthening cooperation in the fight against wildlife crime across the region.
"Strengthening trans-boundary 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 the meeting.
South Asia is home to over 15 percent of the world's flora and 12 percent of its fauna, including several iconic species.
Given its richness in biodiversity, South Asia remains one of the prime targets in international organised wildlife crime networks. Apart from iconic species such as tigers, elephants and rhinos, there are a variety of medicinal plants, timber, marine species, birds and reptiles that are under constant threat from illegal exploitation and trafficking.
To counter such threats, especially the illegal wildlife trade of the iconic species, the eight countries of South Asia came together to establish the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN).
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 eight South Asian countries finalised and endorsed the SAWEN Statute and updated their collaborative roadmap for fighting wildlife crime in South Asia.
The meeting adopted the SAWEN Statute, 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 organisations, international and regional organisations working on matters of wildlife trade and international policies.
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.
S.S. Garbyal, director general of forest and special secretary in the ministry of environment and forests of the 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."
Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of the NGO, 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.
Niraj further said: "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."