By Teh Yi Ying
Imagine a world without birdsong, without biodiversity and with only one life-form: we human beings. In fact, we would not survive in such a world, dependant as we are upon other species. However, as the illegal wildlife trade continues to rob ecosystems of their rich biodiversity, this is the world we are spiralling toward. A world where 13–42 percent of Southeast Asia’s animal and plant species could be wiped out this century — half of which are found nowhere else on Earth. This is the world in which illegal wildlife trade exists.
The illegal trading of endangered species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a multibillion-dollar illegal industry, potentially exceeding US$ 20 billion annually. With the burgeoning wealth of the world’s population, the market for illegal wildlife is rapidly increasing, adding to the coffers of organized crime groups which have links to other illicit activities such as drug and human trafficking.
Fortunately, there is another group committed to stop this trend in its tracks. I recently attended a seminar on “Strengthening ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) through Public-Private Partnerships in Legal Cooperation” during which participants showed fierce determination to combat wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asian countries. ASEAN-WEN is a law enforcement network that coordinates the region’s response to illegal trade in protected species, which is especially important since:
- Despite occupying only 3 percent of the world’s land surface, Southeast Asia contains 20 percent of Earth’s species.
- Countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines contain three of the 35 identified biodiversity hotspots.
- Southeast Asia is a significant exporter, importer and transit point for wildlife trafficking.
From 2006 to 2010, over 500 arrests have been made across the region, with over 76,000 live animals rescued, and 107,000 animal parts recovered for a total black-market value of US$50 million. ASEAN-WEN has also developed species identification guides that have been translated into local languages.
However, there is still a lack of acknowledgement that wildlife trafficking is an organized transnational crime which threatens the security of countries. More....