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05 July 2013

INTERPOL meeting in South Asia aims to improve wildlife crime investigation skills

NEW DELHI, India – Enhancing techniques for investigating crimes against wild tigers and other Asian ‘big cats’ was the focus of an INTERPOL meeting in India attended by some 30 senior law enforcement officers.

The five-day (1-5 July) Integrated Investigative Training and Operational Planning Meeting for South Asia was co-hosted by INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It brought together police, customs and wildlife officers from eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – as well as the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) and the CITES Secretariat.

Held under the auspices of INTERPOL’s Project Predator, which supports regional efforts for the conservation of wild tigers and other Asian big cats, the meeting explored modern investigative techniques, including intelligence and information management; National Environmental Security Task Forces (NESTs); wildlife forensics and DNA analysis; controlled deliveries; cyber forensics; and effective investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes through the use of INTERPOL’s global tools and services.

Additional partners of the meeting included TRAFFIC, SAWEN, and India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and National Tiger Conservation Authority, while USAID is a strong supporter and funder of Project Predator.

Opening the meeting, Shri Ranjit Sinha, Director of India’s CBI, described wildlife crime as a highly organized, transnational crime conducted by an extensive network of criminals. Referring to tigers as the ‘greatest living symbol of our natural world’, Mr Sinha called for greater coordination between intelligence and law enforcement agencies across international borders.

In recognition of the growing international concern posed by wildlife poaching and trafficking, on      1 July United States President Barack Obama signed an executive order, outlining how wildlife crimes are increasingly coordinated by organized criminal groups and establishing a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. 

INTERPOL’s Project Predator Leader Ioana Botezatu, said: “The recent wave of proactive initiatives, and the increased focus and determination of regional law enforcement agencies to reverse the criminal trend impacting our environment through multi-disciplinary strategic thinking, are a true success of our generation.

“INTERPOL’s resources and secure network enable the wildlife community to be safe in its actions. The Environmental Crime Programme is for this reason recommending countries to provide access to INTERPOL’s I-24/7 network to all law enforcement agencies that could bring value to environmental security. The access will enhance communication in a secure and professional manner, linking and equipping continents, regions, countries and national agencies with the means to fight modern crime,” she added.

“Support from partners such as SAWEN and TRAFFIC is essential for enhancing cohesion between countries in the region to improve wildlife law enforcement,” Ms Botezatu concluded.

During the operational planning portion of the meeting, participants generated ideas to enable national agencies to further develop national plans that will benefit cross-border cooperation under the auspices of Operation Prey, which targets the illegal trade in Asian big cats and wildlife products. 

The Honorable Minister of State for Environment and Forests of India, Jayanthi Natarajan pledged her country’s support for the conservation of wild tigers and all Asian big cats.

“In 50 years of conservation, we have not seen wildlife trade at the scale we see today. It is the greatest threat to some of our wildlife species like the tiger, elephant and rhinoceros. The battle is far from won.

“SAWEN is a very important network to address the challenges of wildlife crime, and I reiterate our support for addressing the illegal trade. Recent evidence shows that wildlife crime networks have been linked to terrorist organizations, so we need more multi-agency collaboration,” concluded Ms Natarajan.

The meeting in New Delhi was the first in a series of two integrated training and operational planning meetings in Asia. A Training and Needs Assessment for Investigate Wildlife Operations in Southeast Asia will be held from 8-12 July in Bangkok, Thailand.

Raising wildlife crime and other environmental crimes on the political agenda is also an objective of the INTERPOL Environmental Compliance and Enforcement events to be held in Nairobi, Kenya from 4-8 November 2013.