Bangkok (Thailand), 3 March 2023 – On World Wildlife Day, we celebrate wild animals and plants, and the contribution that they make to our lives and the health of our planet. As the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, the UNODC takes this opportunity to reflect on its collaborative work in Asia and the Pacific to reduce wildlife crime.
Wildlife and forest crimes are often transnational in scope, requiring a comprehensive and coordinated effort among all actors in the criminal justice chain.
UNODC’s holistic approach supports interventions that extend from crime prevention to providing support to counterparts from “crime scene to court”, working with the national authorities to ensure that the criminal justice practitioners tasked with prevention, those who draft and implement legislation, those who plan and carry out seizures, and those who investigate offences or prosecute offenders all work together towards achieving a common objective.
With a wildlife crime taskforce in The Philippines or through consultations with investigators and law enforcement in the Solomon Islands, UNODC builds bridges between agencies along the entire criminal justice chain. UNODC has actively worked with countries across Asia and the Pacific to improve their criminal justice response to wildlife and forest crimes, by providing policy support and delivering tailored trainings and advisory services to national experts tasked to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate these crimes.
Working with wildlife forensic specialists (TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network), UNODC supports operations at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR) forensics laboratory in Viet Nam, ensuring the laboratory is operating at the highest standards of quality control and has sufficient resources to support police and customs investigations into wildlife trafficking. With the support of UNODC, the IEBR is now the only forensics laboratory fully assessed to be compliant with the Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences (SWFS) International Standards and Guidelines outside of the United States of America.
In other countries in Southeast Asia where there is an absence of wildlife DNA forensic capacity (for instance, Lao PDR and the Philippines), UNODC supports a Portable Enforcement Laboratory Testing Service (PELTS), through which a portable laboratory and expert forensic scientists can be deployed to help collect evidence for later prosecution.
To create a healthier environment for wildlife and humans, the Safety across Asia For the global Environment Project (SAFE) – funded by the European Union – aims to reduce zoonotic risks and wildlife crime. Following a One Health approach, UNODC works with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to prevent future pandemics by focusing on the connection between wildlife trafficking and zoonotic disease transmission. SAFE developed a risk assessment framework and is conducting visits at facilities and locations with the highest risk of passing zoonotic diseases from wild animals to humans, to promote good practices and recommend risk-mitigating policy changes.
UNODC recognizes the convergence of wildlife crime, corruption, money-laundering, and cybercrime, and has instituted various programmes, including identification and prioritization of risks, development of countermeasures, and establishment of monitoring mechanisms to guarantee accountability.
Where there is wildlife crime, there is often also corruption. From the poaching of the animal to the issuance of licenses for captive breeding facilities, the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade is often subject to illicit facilitation by public officials and collusion with private sector entities. The vast profits generated from this crime then have to be laundered and moved across borders for the criminal to benefit. The problem is further exacerbated by new technology and greater connectivity that allow cyber criminals to facilitate the illicit trade. To address these challenge, UNODC trains law enforcement officials in Sri Lanka on open-source online investigation techniques, and works together with Thailand’s authorities to assess the risk of corruption in the wildlife sector.
Exchanging information on investigations and coordinating efforts between regions are essential to prosecute transnational criminal syndicates. Through the Wildlife Inter-Regional Enforcement (WIRE) network, enforcement and criminal justice specialists from three continents have been collaborating for the past six years on transnational cases, by sharing information and best practices to tackle wildlife crime.
After connections among different types of transnational organized crimes were identified, the joint Customs Operation Mekong Dragon was first set up in 2019. Having just completed its 4th phase, the operation brings together 27 law enforcement agencies from 24 countries and territories from across Asia and the Pacific to target drugs and wildlife trafficking. The recently-concluded iteration highlighted a decreasing trend in seizures of wildlife and timber from 2021 to 2022, attributed to tightened controls over passenger and air parcel delivery, as well as legal system reforms instituted by several countries in recent years.
UNODC thanks its partners for their collaboration and looks forward to keep working together. Happy World Wildlife Day!
Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment
Click here to learn more about UNODC's Regional Programme for Southeast Asia and the Pacific
Click here to learn more about the SAFE Project
The SAFE project is implemented by the UNODC Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and benefits from the financial support of the European Union.