South Asian Countries Establish Network to Combat Illegal Wildlife Trade

7 February 2011

An international agreement between eight South Asian countries to help curb illegal wildlife trade and protect rare and endangered species was formally adopted last week in Paro, Bhutan. The South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) seeks to coordinate efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of threatened species in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Under the scheme, first conceived by South Asian environment ministers in 2008, the eight countries have committed to boosting regional cooperation in combating the illegal trafficking of wildlife and bio resources as well as wildlife conservation. The official launch of the network took place from 29-30 January.

TRAFFIC, a UK-based organisation that monitors wildlife trade, says the illegal movement of wildlife across national borders, has been a constant threat to many species in the South Asia. The BBC reports that decades of rampant poaching and exploitation for the use of animal parts in ornaments, jewellery and ancient oriental medicines have decimated the wildlife populations.  As a result, TRAFFIC says that  the biodiversity in this region is highly vulnerable. A variety of species have been dramatically affected including populations of tigers, elephants, marine species, and medicinal plants.

SAWEN is focused on countering these threats that are presented by the illegal wildlife trade. At the most recent meeting, experts from member countries, IGOs such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES), and NGOs such as TRAFFIC, agreed on an action-oriented work plan. Certain aspects of this work plan will begin immediately. According to the BBC, SAWEN is the first collaborative wildlife initiative of its kind in South Asia.

"SAWEN will help...authorities and officials across the region to share good practices and resources to cooperate and coordinate actions to apprehend poachers and traffickers," said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan's Minister for Agriculture and Forests.

The regional network received much praise from environmental organisations as a significant co-operative effort. Samir Sinha, Programme Head of TRAFFIC India referred to SAWEN as "a milestone" and an "essential piece of collective effort to conserve a region of outstanding biological richness and diversity."

CITIES echoed that it is "delighted" over the creation of SAWEN and commends the eight countries for "demonstrat[ing] their commitment to bringing to justice those criminals who are robbing this part of the world of its precious natural resources."

ICTSD Reporting; "New South Asian Anti-Trafficking Group is Formed," BBC, 31 January, 2011; "South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) Formally Launched at Paro," TRAFFIC, 30 January, 2011; "South Asian Scheme Launched to Fight Poaching," AFP, 1 February, 2011.

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