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. Asian, US police meet on tackling wildlife crime

by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Jan 7, 2009
Police investigators from Southeast Asia, China and the United States met in Bangkok Wednesday to share strategies for tackling the illegal international trade in tigers, leopards and pangolins.

Big cats prized for their skin and body parts and pangolins, or scaly anteaters, which are used in cooking, are under particular threat from organised trafficking gangs in Asia.

Investigators from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam joined representatives from China and the United States for a three-day workshop on curbing the crime.

"Concerted and coordinated joint actions are required to address the illegal exploitation and trade," said Chumphon Suckasaem, a senior officer with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Chumphon said the trade had already taken its toll, "threatening to irrevocably damage Southeast Asia's ecosystems."

But he said more than 100 arrests connected with major wildlife crime had been made since mid-July 2008.

"Compared to the past the police are more interested in the wildlife issue... it's stronger than it was before," said Colonel Subsak Chavalviwat of Thailand's wildlife police department.

Subsak admitted there remained difficult cultural barriers in countries such as China, where there is still a strong demand for big cat parts.

"Sometimes its difficult but I'm confident so I'm going to keep doing it and keep trying," he said.

"It's saving the animals, saving the forests and saving the humans because if the biodiversity is good then we are living in a good environment for humans' health," he added.

Pangolins are the most traded species in Southeast Asia, with Chumphon estimating 30,000 specimens had been confiscated by authorities between 1998 and 2007.

The World Wildlife Fund estimated last year that there were only around 3,500 tigers left in the world.

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