Bangkok, September 15, 2016 – A five-year, U.S.-sponsored program to combat wildlife trafficking in Asia has significantly increased law enforcement collaboration and public awareness while reducing endangered species sales in several hotspots, experts announced at a press conference in Bangkok today.
Working across Southeast Asia and China, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program tackled the multi-billion-dollar illegal trade in endangered species amid new signs of positive shifts in consumer behavior.
“Poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife have far-reaching consequences that have the potential to undermine decades of development gains,” said Beth S. Paige, director of the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia. “The loss of wildlife and the presence of traffickers affect the safety of rural communities and threatens their livelihoods. Through our support to this project, we were able to raise the alarm about wildlife trafficking and help leaders coordinate for greater action to end this crime.”
Training for more than 2,300 officers from 14 countries helped lead to a ten-fold increase in law enforcement actions, including over 1,300 arrests and the seizure of more than $150 million in criminal assets. Developed by the program in 2013 and led by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, the now annual “Operation Cobra” resulted in a record-breaking number of arrests and seizures. By 2015, the operation included 47 countries cooperating on 247 cases, which led to the arrest of 125 suspects.
With program support, officials have exposed and disrupted three intercontinental criminal supply chains, putting wildlife trafficking kingpins out of business in parts of Asia and Africa. This includes the arrests yesterday of five major ivory traffickers in Congo who were the exporters of the record 2.1-ton haul of elephant tusks seized by Thai Customs, destined for Laos, in April 2015. This successful enforcement action resulted from joint training and information sharing between Asian and African investigators sponsored by the program.
Mass communications behavior change campaigns in China, Thailand and Vietnam stigmatized consumption of endangered species, reaching over 40 million people per day at their peak. The upshot was a clear shift in the mindset of wildlife consumers, said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia’s Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an ARREST partner. “One survey in 2015 showed that the number of consumers with the intention of buying ivory in the future had declined by 38 percent in China when compared to 2013, this clearly shows that campaigns are having an impact,” she said.
“With poaching and trafficking still posing a threat to wildlife, there’s definitely more work to be done,” said Steven Galster, director of USAID’s implementing partner, Freeland. “But ARREST put wildlife crime clearly in view of Asia’s law enforcement community, which means poachers and traffickers are finally on the defensive.”
Going forward, government and civil society stakeholders will continue the work started under the program. “We adopted ARREST training materials about fighting wildlife crime, and are disseminating across the country for our police force to use and our cadets to study,” said Dr. Tran Minh Chat, Deputy Director of the People’s Police Academy of Vietnam.
ARREST featured an alliance of more than 50 government agencies, nongovernmental and civil society organizations working across many parts of Asia to protect species threatened by extinction, including elephants, pangolins, rhinos, tigers and timber.
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Host and Supporting Organizations
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient societies to realize their potential. Following 50 years of improving lives through development and humanitarian assistance, USAID is the principal U.S. Government development agency partnering with countries throughout the world to promote peace, prosperity and security. Please visit www.usaid.gov/asia-regional or follow facebook.com/USAIDAsia and @USAIDAsia on Twitter for more information.
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Its team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, raise awareness, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. Freeland is the lead implementing partner of the ARREST program. For more info, visit www.freeland.org or follow Freeland on Twitter @FREELANDpeople or www.facebook.com/freelandfoundation.