Southeast Asia needs to ramp up its game plan to tackle its immense wildlife trafficking problem, according to a new report that assessed the illegal trade in the region from the turn of the century.
Published by international wildlife group Traffic, the report highlighted the need for governments to address loopholes in policies and enforcement, especially since inadequate laws, poor conviction rates and poor regulation of markets allow such transboundary crimes to persist in the region.
With 10 countries functioning as source, consumer and transhipment points for wildlife from within the region and the rest of the world, Traffic said Southeast Asia encapsulates the full range of global challenges in biodiversity management and wildlife trade.
The 105-page report, released in full in February, analysed thousands of successful seizures, revealing stunning numbers related to wildlife trafficking.
From 2000 to 2019, for instance, an estimated 895,000 pangolins were trafficked globally, while over 96,000kg of their scales were seized in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam from 2017 to last year.
This represents 94 per cent of the total volume of scales confiscated in the region during this period.
The report also revealed that over 200 tons of African elephant ivory, 100,000 pig-nosed turtles and over 45,000 songbirds were seized in the region in the past 19 years.
Despite the staggering numbers, Traffic said these data only showed a small fraction of the true scale of the wildlife trade, since seizures represent only trafficking incidents that were successfully intercepted. In addition, complex and ambiguous systems to regulate commercial trade were also riddled with loopholes, the group said.
“Not a day goes by without a wildlife seizure taking place in Southeast Asia,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic Southeast Asia director, in a statement.
“Seizures are certainly commendable, but what must be eradicated are the many basic enabling factors that drive and fuel illegal trade,” she added.
Inadequacies in national legislation, low rates of prosecution and pervasive corruption remain as enabling factors for the trade.
Poor regulation of legal wildlife trade also contributed to the problem, while illicit online marketplaces, such as those in social media, likewise mushroomed in the past decade, the report said.
Such realities were reflected in Traffic’s assessment of the Philippines, where there had been several seizures of endangered animals and animal byproducts, among the biggest of which is elephant ivory.
The report also noted frequent entry of Indonesian wildlife for a thriving pet trade, as well as wildlife laundering operations for international trade.
To address the illicit trade in the region, Traffic said Southeast Asian governments and its partners should work together to harmonise national laws, increase penalties and identify and shut down open markets that sell protected wildlife and their products, among others.
For the Philippines, the report recommended the commitment of more resources and efforts into investigating the trade and trafficking, particularly through enhanced vigilance at the entry and exit points in the country.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK