KP Sharma

Frontline officials in the south Asia region will collaborate to combat wildlife crimes in the region.

A week-long regional training of trainers programme aimed at strengthening the capacities of frontline officials engaged in combating wildlife crimes in South Asia began in Paro yesterday. Led by the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), the initiative brings together over 30 frontline officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Officials will focus on legal documentation, enhance the capacity of the law enforcement officials on wildlife offence documentation to strengthen the judicial system.

Illegal wildlife trade, a lucrative illicit industry valued at USD 8 to 10 billion annually, has transformed South Asia into a significant poaching and transit hub.

South Asia’s vast landscapes provide crucial habitats for globally important and endangered wildlife, including tigers, rhinos, marine species, pangolins, Asian elephants, and freshwater turtles. Many of these species are endangered and on the brink of extinction.

Further, such illegal and unsustainable trade of these species poses a dire threat to their survival.

The region’s connections to larger markets in Asia and Southeast Asia intensify the issue, making it a hotspot for illegal wildlife trade.

Amid the increasing case of wildlife crimes in the region, law enforcement agencies in South Asia are challenged with weak enforcement, weak detection, insufficient deterrence, and poor collaboration among the relevant agencies.

The programme is an integral part of the project ‘Countering Wildlife Trafficking in South Asia through the Wildlife Crime Prevention Framework.’ This initiative addresses the urgent need to enhance the capabilities of law enforcement agencies to effectively curb illegal wildlife trade.

A press release from WWF, Bhutan, stated that participants will gain essential skills in wildlife crime investigation, legal documentation and court simulation which are essential for bolstering judicial systems. Additionally, it is expected  improve enforcement, investigative, and prosecutorial functions for wildlife crimes, alongside implementing effective measures to prevent such crimes.

The director of the Department of Forests and Park Services, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Lobzang Dorji said that wildlife trafficking is a global crisis threatening the environment and socio-economic structures. He added that species such as rare orchids and mammals often receive little public attention and are particularly vulnerable.

“Organised wildlife crime networks exploit gaps in law enforcement, necessitating enhanced capacities and strengthened prosecution systems to combat wildlife trafficking.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Wildlife Crime Report 2024, illegal wildlife trade has affected around 4,000 species across 162 countries, including approximately 3,250 species listed under cites.

Senior director, Biodiversity Conservation, WWF-India and interim head, Traffic’s India office, Dipankar Ghose said that South Asia continues to be a critical source and transit region for illegal trade of wildlife derivatives and products.

“Through the training, we hope to not only create a pool of trainers to enhance legal documentation and implementation through best practices, but also want to encourage stronger regional cooperation and collaboration between the South Asian countries,” he said.

The collective efforts from the participants are expected to protect South Asia’s wildlife and secure a sustainable future for generations to come.