By Gavin Shire
Washington, DC-A decade-long partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Republic of the Philippines began a new phase today with the signing of an agreement to help that country combat wildlife trafficking.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary, Analiza Teh, and the Director of the Bureau for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Asis Perez, to provide the Philippines Government with access to and use of the National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. Under this agreement samples of wildlife and biota collected by Philippine law enforcement officials can be tested at the lab - results of which will be considered admissible evidence in Philippine courts - leading to greater success in the prosecution of wildlife traffickers.
"The fight to prevent wildlife trafficking and halt its devastating impact on some of the world's most well-known and well-loved wild animals is going to take a global effort," said Service Director Dan Ashe. "This MOU between our two countries exemplifies the sort of international cooperation that will help us win this fight and save species such as the African elephant and rhino."
This collaboration is the latest in the Partnership for Biodiversity II (PBC II) program, a joint program of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of the Interior, under which the U.S. Department of the Interior provides assistance on environmental law enforcement to Philippines law enforcement agencies. The U.S. Agency for International Development takes a comprehensive approach to address wildlife trafficking. In addition to strengthening law enforcement and the first line of defense against poachers and traffickers, USAID also strengthens democratic institutions and rule of law, bolsters community conservation, reduces demand for wildlife products and develops innovative solutions.
The Philippines is a thoroughfare for the trade of ivory and other illegally trafficked wildlife, and faces considerable challenges in combatting illegal and unsustainable fishing practices. Under PBC II, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of the Interior and the Service have also helped establish an information system that records and tracks environmental law violations, and institutionalized a standard environmental law enforcement training curriculum.
"We strongly support the Partnership for Biodiversity Conservation II Project and its efforts to increase the capacity of law enforcement to protect the unparalleled biodiversity of the Philippines. Access to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory will help police and prosecutors build stronger cases against wildlife traffickers," said Ashe. "This is good news for native wildlife and for dozens of species from across the globe that may be smuggled into or through the Philippines."
The Fish and Wildlife Service's Forensics Laboratory is one of only a handful of labs of its kind in the world, and a world leader in developing techniques for examining, identifying, and comparing physical evidence of crimes against wildlife using a wide range of scientific procedures and instruments. The lab supports the law enforcement efforts of more than 200 Service special agents and 120 wildlife inspectors throughout the United States, all 50 State Fish & Game Commissions, and the 179 other countries that have signed the United Nation's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Today's agreement will also serve as the foundation for expanded cooperative anti-trafficking initiatives between Philippine and United States law enforcement agencies in coming years. It also supports the U.S. Government's wildlife anti-trafficking and biodiversity conservation goals as outlined in President Obama's Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, and strengthens the important and strategic partnership among the U.S. Agency for International development, the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Philippine government to combat environmental crime.