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31 August 2014

Combating wildlife crime in South Asia focus of Nepal meeting

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Formulating a collaborative strategy against wildlife crime was the focus of the second annual meeting of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), which brought together more than 50 wildlife experts and representatives from countries in the region, as well as from INTERPOL and other international organizations.

Officials met to further strengthen regional cooperation against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. In this respect, the meeting focused on standardizing policies and laws, strengthening institutional capacity, sharing knowledge amongst member countries, and promoting collaboration amongst regional and international partners to enhance wildlife enforcement in the region.
With the three-day (27-29 August) meeting organized by the SAWEN Secretariat in collaboration with the Government of Nepal, INTERPOL and WWF Nepal, Nepal’s Minister of Forests and Soil, Mahesh Acharya, said at the meeting: “The illegal trade of wildlife has become one of the largest criminal activities in the world. This clearly warrants us to strengthen regional as well as global collaboration to combat illegal trade of wild animals and plants, and also come up with a regional strategy with actions to deal with wildlife crime.”
Megh Bahadur Pandey, the Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Chief Enforcement Coordinator of SAWEN, underlined the role of the meeting in ‘curbing the wildlife trade in the region and beyond, which stand as one of the most challenging issues in conserving biodiversity today’.
To this end, the meeting also highlighted the need for enhanced information sharing and intelligence analysis, including via secure channels provided by INTERPOL.
“Wildlife crime represents a serious transnational threat to South Asia’s biodiversity. Driven by transnational organized criminal syndicates who control the growing and highly lucrative illicit wildlife trade, it is impossible for any one country to tackle wildlife crime alone,” said David Higgins, the Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit.
“INTERPOL therefore welcomes the work undertaken during this SAWEN meeting to enhance our collaborative response against wildlife crime,” he concluded.
An INTERPOL Workshop on Wildlife Forensics in South Asia preceded the SAWEN meeting, and brought together experts to discuss how to develop wildlife forensics and crime scene investigation capabilities in South Asia to support law enforcement efforts to address wildlife crime.
The workshop included recommendations on standardizing DNA and forensic testing, which were presented during the SAWEN meeting as part of a proposal to create a wildlife forensic network among SAWEN member countries.
"In the past, criminals have had an advantage because little attention was paid to wildlife crime. This SAWEN meeting is turning the tide to favour wildlife and all of us, especially the rural poor in South Asia who are most dependent on biodiversity for their livelihoods," said USAID’s Environment Team Leader, Mary Melnyk.

"USAID's partnership with INTERPOL and SAWEN is firmly establishing the means to combat transnational wildlife crime using the latest tools and advances of INTERPOL," she added.

The SAWEN meeting included experts from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), USAID, the World Bank, TRAFFIC, ASEAN-WEN, FREELAND Foundation, and WWF.