Ron Corben, Connect Asia
Last Updated: Thailand is looking for broader regional support in the fight against the multi-million dollar illegal trade in wildlife.
Strong economic growth in Asia prior to the global downturn has fuelled a steady growth in the illegal wildlife trade, which is worth around $US20 billion annually, with wealthy buyers lining up from China, Europe and the United States.
Thailand's call for more support, including from Australia and New Zealand, came as the government established a new program to train 250 staff at Bangkok's main airport to help identify and catch wildlife traffickers.
The program was set up by the Association of South East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) wildlife enforcement network, which fosters cooperation among regional law enforcement forces against wildlife trafficking throughout South East Asia.
Efforts by ASEAN WEN last year led to more than 25,000 live animals being saved, and 4.5 tons of carcasses being seized, with authorities making more than 100 arrests.
Thailand's Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, Suvit Khunkitti, says the newly trained staff will become a valuable weapon in the arsenal against wildlife smuggling.
"It's a regional problem," he told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program.
"We've seen within ASEAN it's still needed to strengthen the cooperation among all of us, especially cross-border areas where we have law enforcement on both sides."
The minister says as well as cutting off traffickers' supply lines, ASEAN wants to explore measures to reduce demand for illegal animals.
"That's very important. Without demand there would not be supply," he said.
Steve Galster, a senior member of ASEAN WEN, says damaging supply lines will naturally reduce demand.
"Any time you put a dent in the trade or start to disrupt it you are going to decrease the volume. That's what we're trying to do here," he said.
"We're not saying we've stopped the trade but as soon as you make it hard that decreases the volume."
Mr Galster says much more needs to be done to bring the large numbers of wildlife still being trafficked in Asia down.
"I'm talking tons of wild animals. We know that there are thousands of animals being trafficked through airports every day," he said.
Mr Galster says threatened animals like the pangolin can fetch up to $US175 in China for every kilogram of meat, and that tons of these animals are illegally traded every day.
The United States is a key financial backer of ASEAN WEN, and the US Ambassador to Thailand, Eric John, says Thailand's porous borders are a magnet for animal traffickers, but that this also makes Bangkok an ideal location to focus efforts on reducing the illegal trade.
"Thailand is a hub for South East Asia, and one of the negative aspects of being a hub is that you also can have illegal trafficking through here so it's a natural partner to work on this," Mr John said.
"Thailand taken the lead to pull in all the ASEAN partners and as Minister Suvit mentioned today they are looking beyond ASEAN and to pulling in other ASEAN partners like China, Korea, Japan and Australia to all look at this issue."
Steve Galster says the Australian government in particular could help by identifying and arresting Australian nationals engaging in animal trafficking before they have a chance to export wildlife from Asia.
"There's foreigners over here, there's Australians - and probably New Zealanders too - but we do know about Australians," he said.
"There's Americans here, there are Asians who are trafficking into these countries, so the way to defeat this - it's kind of like drug trafficking - is you've got to have people at the source helping to catch them before they traffick out, getting real time intelligence to pass to your own countries."
| Posted by Mary on March 15 2009 17:49:36
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