Working together to combat wildlife crimes in South Asia

Posted on
27 May 2024

34 law enforcement officials undergo Training of Trainers (ToT) program on legal documentation in Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan – May 27, 2024: The regional Training of Trainers (ToT) program on legal documentation began in Paro today with the aim to strengthen the capacities of frontline officials engaged in combating wildlife crimes in South Asia.

Over 30 officials from five South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) member countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are participating in the week-long ToT program. The training program is aimed at enhancing the capacity of the law enforcement officials on wildlife offense documentation to strengthen judicial system.

The Regional ToT on legal documentation is an integral part of the project ‘Countering Wildlife Trafficking in South Asia through the Wildlife Crime Prevention Framework' supported by INL. This initiative addresses the urgent need to enhance the capabilities of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in South Asia to effectively curb illegal wildlife trade (IWT).

The comprehensive training program will equip participants with essential skills in wildlife crime investigation, legal documentation, and court simulation.

Over the decades illegal wildlife trade has become one of the most lucrative trade with an estimated worth of USD 8 - 10 billion annually. South Asia has evolved as a crucial source of poaching for wildlife trafficking, as well as a transit hub for illegal wildlife trade.

South Asia contains a wide expanse of areas that forms an important habitat for globally significant wildlife such as Tigers and other Asian big cats, rhino, marine, pangolins, Asian elephants and freshwater turtles, among others. Many of these species are on the brink of extinction and endangered.

Illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade directly threatens the survival of many such species in the wild. The region's linkages with larger markets in Asia and Southeast Asia exacerbate the issue, turning it into 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. wildlife crime prosecution and conviction rate remain very low in South Asia.

The training program aims to improve enforcement, investigative, and prosecutorial functions for wildlife crimes, alongside implementing effective measures to prevent such crimes.

Over the past year, 62 law enforcement agencies across South Asia have received training in areas such as wildlife derivative identification, forensic science, digital evidence collection, crime scene management, and legal documentation.

These training sessions, conducted from November to December 2023, aimed to build the expertise of frontline law enforcement officers to effectively combat illegal wildlife trade.

Following a similar ToT program conducted in India, Bhutan developed Wildlife Offense Investigation and Legal Documentation guide for frontline forest officials to ensure proper documentation for effective management of wildlife crimes.

The week-long training program would also serve as an important platform to share ideas, knowledge and skills, build a robust network and efficient information sharing channels. The collective efforts is expected to protect South Asia's wildlife and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

Background and Objectives:

Illegal wildlife trade poses a significant threat to biodiversity and regional security. To counter this issue, the ToT will focus on capacitating frontline law enforcement officials in handling wildlife crime cases with a keen emphasis on legal documentation and court proceedings. The primary objective is to establish a robust link between the crime, the criminal, and the evidence, ensuring meticulous and court-ready documentation.

Participants will engage in a series of intensive sessions covering:

  • Wildlife Crime Investigation: In-depth training on regional laws, crime scene documentation, and connecting evidence to criminals.
  • Custody Management: Practical sessions on managing custody, suspect interviews, and prosecution processes.
  • Prosecution Preparedness: Building strong court cases through effective legal documentation and evidence management.

The ultimate goal of this regional ToT is to transform frontline LEAs into proficient trainers within their own countries. By instilling new knowledge, skills, and ethical practices, the trained officials will be empowered to disseminate their expertise, thereby fostering a ripple effect of enhanced wildlife crime interdiction across South Asia.

Mr. Lobzang Dorji, Director, Department of Forests and Park Services, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources: (quote here)

Wildlife trafficking is a global crisis threatening our environment and socio-economic structures. The UNODC World Wildlife Crime Report 2024 highlights that illegal wildlife trade has affected around 4,000 species across 162 countries, including approximately 3,250 species listed under CITES. These species, such as rare orchids and mammals, often receive little public attention and are particularly vulnerable.

Organized wildlife crime networks exploit gaps in law enforcement, necessitating enhanced capacities and strengthened prosecution systems to combat wildlife trafficking. This training program aims to build a robust capacity development framework, strengthen partnerships, and facilitate the exchange of best practices.

Mr Chimi Rinzin, Country Director, WWF-Bhutan:

In Southeast Asia alone, where the illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth USD 8 - USD 10 billion per year, wildlife is harvested at many times the sustainable level, decimating ecosystems and driving species to extinction. With its linkage in a larger market which includes China, Indonesia and India, South Asia is not only one of the world's global hotspots but also now well known as world's hotpots for illegal wildlife trade.

Weak enforcement with lack of detection, deterrence and collaboration are some of the issues and challenges faced by the wildlife law enforcement agencies to counter wildlife crime and trade in South Asia. Often wildlife crime prosecution and conviction rate remain very low in South Asia.

About SAWEN:

The South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) is a regional inter-governmental network established to combat wildlife crime by promoting cooperation, coordination, communication, and collaboration among South Asian countries.Working together to combat wildlife crimes in South Asia

About WWF:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is Bhutan’s oldest conservation partner. Beginning in 1977 by supporting capacity development of local conservation staff, the support gradually evolved into a full country program with several collaborative conservation projects. WWF Bhutan has been supporting the royal government and people of Bhutan in a number of conservation efforts to protect and conserve Bhutan’s natural capital and the immense biological diversity.

About TRAFFIC India:

TRAFFIC India works globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. It aims to ensure that trade in wildlife is not a threat to the conservation of nature.