By Lelie Jose-Castillio
On February 25 the Philippines’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) announced it had seized 93 exotic animals that had been smuggled into southern Philippines. Among the animals confiscated were 66 wild birds, 10 sugar gliders and assorted mammals and reptiles, some of which were vulnerable and critically endangered.
The five Filipinos caught transporting the creatures from Australia and Indonesia were arrested and will be charged with illegal possession and transport of such species. Their arrest came two weeks after 100 almost similar animals from Australia and Indonesia were seized by wildlife authorities while being transported to Manila.
In Thailand police seized five endangered tiger cubs and hundreds of other animals, including turtles and monitor lizards being illegally transported to Lao PDR. Police said traders are using Laos as transit point to sell animals to China and Vietnam.
The two Thai men caught smuggling the cubs and other species have been charged with illegal possession of protected animals. Under international law, it is illegal to trade tigers and tiger parts, except for noncommercial reasons, such as scientific research.
In Cambodia police arrested two Vietnamese caught smuggling nearly 80 kilograms of elephant tusks from Africa. According to arresting officers, the men were caught with the illegal ivory after arriving in Siem Reap from South Korea. The ivory, which came from Angola, was being transported to be sold in Vietnam.
The three incidents, which happened in a span of only two weeks, came days before the first celebration of World Wildlife Day on March 3. The global event traces its roots to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 2013, when leaders proclaimed the third of March as World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora.
The date is significant as it also marks the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Adopted on March 3, 1973, Cites plays a key role in ensuring that international trade does not threaten the survival of various species.
Cites Secretary-General John E. Scanlon said World Wildlife Day is “the opportunity for all of us—no matter who we are or where we are—to celebrate the beauty and variety of the millions of plants and animals that we share our planet with. While we cherish wildlife in its own right, we should not forget that it also contributes to our personal well-being—from food to medicine—from culture to recreation.”
He also pointed to the global problem of habitat loss and illegal trade, which “is now threatening the survival of some of our most charismatic species, as well as some plants and animals you may never have heard of.”
Scanlon urged citizens and consumers to end illegal trade and to work for a future where people and wildlife co-exist in harmony.
The celebration has elicited support from various global organizations. International Union for Conservation of Nature Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre said, “World Wildlife Day gives us a chance to highlight the breathtaking diversity of our planet’s animal and plant species and how their continued survival in the wild is intimately linked to ours.”
“At a time when the earth’s natural resources are being exploited at an accelerated pace to meet the needs of burgeoning populations and consumer demands, the World Wildlife Day and Cites will help us to focus more on sustainable practices by communities, governments and enterprises in our ultimate quest for development,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).
In Southeast Asia Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Roberto V. Oliva expressed support for the global celebration.
“The Asean Centre for Biodiversity is proud to support World Wildlife Day. As home to a treasure trove of plant and animal species, many of which are either threatened or critically endangered, the Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations\ region has a crucial role in ensuring that biological resources will be conserved for future generations,” he said.
The Asean region is a known hot spot in the lucrative, multibillion-dollar global trade of wildlife, in which both live and processed goods of most species are traded, ranging from tigers and elephants to rare orchids and indigenous medicinal herbs, from rare marine species to endemic reptiles and songbirds.
While all 10 Asean member-states are signatories to the Cites, the poaching, trafficking and illegal consumption of wildlife parts and products remain rampant.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Southeast Asia and the Pacific is both a point of origin and destination for a significant trade in wildlife that threatens many vital and endangered species with extinction.
“Rare wildlife is consumed throughout Asia—but particularly in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand—for luxury meals, and used for status symbol ornaments and in traditional medicine. Asia is now a significant consumer market for smuggled wildlife, driving the massive scale of poaching in Africa.”
“This is why governments in the Asean member-states are heightening enforcement actions,” Oliva said.
One collaborative effort is the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network (Asean-WEN). Launched in 2005, Asean-WEN is a regional intergovernmental law- enforcement network designed to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
According to Oliva, ACB is working together with Asean-WEN on capacity-building activities aimed at enhancing the understanding by Asean governments of Cites policy.
In 2013 ACB continued to work together with Asean-WEN and Freeland Foundation in the implementation of the program Protect, or Protected Area Operational and Tactical Enforcement Conservation Training.
Oliva urged the citizens of Asean to support efforts against illegal wildlife trade. “There are many simple things we can. We can start by not patronizing food and other products that come from the illegal trade, especially of endangered species.”
“Let us cherish wildlife and recognize their great contributions to our well-being. They provide food, medicine, and many other products and services. But we must all be responsible. Let us put an end to illegal wildlife trade. As Cites Secretary-General Scanlon, said, ‘By working together we can do this—and in doing so secure the future for wild plants and animals, as well as for ourselves.’”