The ASEAN region provides habitats for some of the world’s most iconic species and increasingly vulnerable species. Species unique to Southeast Asia are facing increasing environmental pressures such as habitat loss from deforestation and land conversion; poaching and illegal trade in wildlife; poor wildlife law enforcement; pollution; climate change; and many others affect species populations, breeding, and reproduction.
Thousands of species are endangered and on the brink of extinction, leading to the possible loss of both enigmatic and economically important species. The rapid deterioration of habitats may already mean the loss of many unrecorded and little studied species that may have infinite benefits to humankind.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES and various regional and national laws have been promulgated to protect species from extinction. CITES protects roughly 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants against over-exploitation through international trade.
Species conservation is a particular focus of the Aichi Targets as indicated in Target 12, that “By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.” As the ecosystem approach is often undertaken in species conservation, such efforts will also contribute to the achievement of Target 5: “By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced,” and Target 7: “By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.”
Wildlife law enforcement
Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s greatest biological diversity. Over 600 million people rely on biodiversity and ecosystem services for their food, livelihoods, medicines, shelter, and aesthetic pleasure. However, the region’s unique and essential natural heritage is under serious threat. Overexploitation – such as illegal logging, destructive and over-fishing, poaching and trafficking of wild plants and animals – continues in the region. Among the reasons for this are the region’s high biodiversity, well-established smuggling routes and accessible transport links. Moreover, illegal wildlife dealers often utilize well established and highly organized cross-border networks to transport illegal wildlife. A considerable proportion of such illegal trade is shipped as airfreight, cargo or carried in personal baggage, much of crosses international borders undetected.
Wildlife crime has a negative impact on a country’s economy and national security. Governments lose revenues with the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade. Illegal wildlife trade, when linked to organized crime, violence, corruption and armed conflict, may destabilize governments and threaten regional security. Part of the problem lies on inadequate law enforcement and coordination among government agencies, and low public awareness on the importance of reducing the incidence of illegal wildlife trade. In order to effectively combat illegal wildlife trade, whether organized or individual activities, law enforcement agencies need to form an organized front.
In response, ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) leads the efforts against illegal wildlife trade. This is the world’s largest wildlife law enforcement network comprising enforcement agencies from the ten ASEAN Member States. ASEAN-WEN is a mechanism by which countries can share information and learn from each other’s best practices. Through annual meetings, workshops and trainings, ASEAN-WEN facilitates increased capacity and better coordination and collaboration of law enforcement agencies between Southeast Asian countries, regionally and globally. It has links with the CITES offices, Interpol, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Justice, and other wildlife law enforcement groups.
Species conservation in the ASEAN
Various programs and projects have been established in the ASEAN Member States to strengthen the populations of the region’s most at risk species. Many of these species are also transboundary in nature, requiring the cooperation of multiple countries as species do not recognize country borders. Some of these transboundary species include the following:
- Asian Elephant, including the pygmy elephant of Borneo
- Indo-Chinese, Sumatran/Malayan tigers (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand)
- Orangutan (Malaysia and Indonesia)9
- Proboscis Monkey (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia in Borneo)
- Thailand or Siamese rosewood
Status of wildlife law enforcement
ASEAN-WEN assists ASEAN Member States in adopting effective and enforceable legislation for CITES implementation; promotes networking among relevant law enforcement authorities in ASEAN Member States to curb illegal trade in wild fauna and flora; promotes research, monitoring and information exchange on CITES-related issues; encourages industry groups, trade associations/traders and local communities to comply with legality and sustainability requirements of CITES and national regulations on trade in wild fauna and flora; supports research and capacity building on sustainable management of trade in wild fauna and flora; encourages greater regional cooperation on specific issues; and seeks sufficient technical and financial assistance through collaborative initiatives.
Important resolutions and decisions by ASEAN leaders have contributed to strengthening policy on against illegal wildlife trade. These include:
- The 33rd ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) Meeting held in 2012 in Lombok, Indonesia, which approved a resolution calling for the strengthening of law enforcement and regional cooperation to combat wildlife crime. The resolution called upon AIPA Member Parliaments to place wildlife crime into the permanent agenda of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crimes (SOMTC) and ASEANOPOL (ASEAN Chiefs of Police). (AIPA Resolution on “Strengthening Law Enforcement and Regional Cooperation to Combat Wildlife Crime”)
- The East Asia Summit (EAS) in August 2013, which endorsed wildlife crime as being a new threat under the Non-traditional Security and Non-proliferation purview in the region.
- The 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in 2014 held in China, where the APEC leaders committed to treat wildlife trafficking crimes seriously and to continue the efforts in combating wildlife trafficking through international cooperation to reduce the supply of and demand for illegally traded wildlife.
- The 9th East Asian Summit held in November 2014 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, which adopted the East Asia Summit Declaration on Combating Wildlife Trafficking.
Supporting the efforts against illegal wildlife trading are the Interpol, ASEAN Wildlife Forensics Network, World Customs Organization, CITES Secretariat, Wild Aid, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, TRACE Forensics Network, US Agency for International Development, Freeland Foundation, and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, among many other organizations.
Capacity Development Officer