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Experts urge stronger action against wildlife poachers

Experts urge stronger action against wildlife poachers

Law enforcement experts are urging stronger action against poachers or smugglers of endangered species, but warn that many countries lack the ability to fight wildlife crimes, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today.

Their recommendations on how to deal with the problem will be presented this week in Bangkok to the 13th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which seeks to ensure that global trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. UNEP staffs the treaty's operations.

The illegal trade in wildlife remains the second-greatest threat to the world's endangered species after habitat destruction, the agency said. Many wildlife smugglers deal in products that are worth more, per kilogram, than cocaine or heroin. Shawls made from the fine wool of the Tibetan antelope, for example, can cost more than $15,000 each. The caviar trade is infested with organized crime networks.

According to the 20-person group of law enforcement experts assembled by CITES, illicit trafficking of wildlife continues at high levels and increasingly involves organized criminal networks, sophisticated poaching and smuggling techniques, fraudulent trade permits, corruption and violence against enforcement officers.

In addition, national authorities often lack the necessary resources and experience to meet the challenge, and there is not enough coordination and information sharing among various enforcement authorities.

"We are in danger of losing the war against wildlife crime, especially for some very rare animals and plants, unless modern professional law enforcement techniques are directed against criminals who care for nothing but profit, who exploit some of the world's poorest communities and take advantage of periods of civil unrest and instability," said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

At the Bangkok meeting, experts will be calling for governments to recognize the seriousness of wildlife crime and a commitment by law enforcement authorities to give it a higher priority. They also urge an increase in the status, authority, training and quality of equipment of wildlife law enforcement personnel.