TUARAN – ASEAN should play a leading role on efforts to end wildlife trafficking said the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli.
According to Novelli the ASEAN region has so much terrestrial and marine biodiversity that includes an astonishing 18% of all species. It has the most diverse coral reefs in the world, as well.
“This is a special legacy and we must work together to protect it,” she said at the ASEAN Regional Forum Workshop on Combating Wildlife Trafficking at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, Tuaran, here today.
Novelli who also co-chair President Obama’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking however noted that the wildlife trafficking is a global problem.
“It is clear to me that no one country can solve this problem in isolation. The declaration by ASEAN countries and its external partners to this effect is a signal to our strong commitment to combat wildlife trafficking in Asia and globally,” she said.
The workshop is the first ASEAN gathering since the adoption of the East Asia Summit Declaration on Combating Wildlife Trafficking last November. The declaration, which was signed by ASEAN, the United States, Australia, China, India, Japan, and Korea, recognizes wildlife trafficking as a serious transnational crime.
“The fact is, wildlife trafficking is a lucrative business. It generates billions of dollars in black market revenues each year and fuels the growth of international criminal syndicates, reversing decades of hard-won conservation gains,” she said.
The challenging part, Novelli said is the increasing demand for these rare and protected species that has resulted in increasing prices.
“This has transition into profits – for transnational criminal syndicates operating in ASEAN countries. Thus, the escalation in wildlife trafficking threatens the very existence of pangolins, elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, and many other species in Asia and other regions,” she said.
Novelli cited an example from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime that reported the trafficking of approximately $140 million worth of pangolins in the East Asia and Pacific region in 2013; where these scaly anteaters are thought to be the most trafficked animal on the planet.
A recent WildAid study reported the market for Manta ray gill plates is approximately $11 million annually. And the Pew Charitable Trust reports a 50% reduction in sightings of manta rays in Indonesian waters over the last decade.
“Trafficking is not only damaging wildlife, it is taking a huge toll on people, too. Traffickers cross borders with near immunity, threaten local populations, kill park rangers, and rob local populations of their livelihoods, and governments of tourism revenues.”
She stated that there is a need to change the playing field so that wildlife trafficking is no longer a low-risk, high-reward activity.
“The linkages between wildlife trafficking and transnational organized crime and corruption demand that we impose penalties similar to those of other serious organized crimes,” she added. – SayangSabah