In a major initiative, seven South Asian countries have joined hands to crack down on increasing illegal cross-border trade in wildlife in the region.

The decision to set up South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), the first of its kind, was taken at the maiden meeting of the South Asia Experts Group on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Kathmandu recently.

One of the mandates of the SAWEN is to work towards strengthening of wildlife law enforcement agencies to take on criminals who now adopt sophisticated methods to carry out their activities.

At the meeting, the countries agreed to establish a secretariat and an outline programme for the new organisation. Wildlife experts from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed to the structure, functions and operational parameters of the SAWEN.

Samir Sinha from conservation group Traffic International which has supported the move, said, “After two years of constant efforts finally this major initiative has taken a shape to coordinate and cooperate to effectively tackle illegal wildlife trade in the region.”

The Nepal government has offered to host the SAWEN and act as its interim coordinator while the Bhutan government will host the next meeting of the organisation.

“South Asia contains a range of habitats of global significance that support a unique array of animal and plant species... making the region a target for traffickers of wildlife to meet the illicit global demand,” Mr. Sinha said.

For instance, Nepal is not only facing tiger crisis but is also being used as a conduit route to smuggle wildlife from India, Mr. Sinha explained.

In the next six months, Nepalese coordinators will assemble information and identify resources and expertise from member countries to develop joint operations, training programmes, communication plans and fund raising to enable the network to bust wildlife trafficking activities.

The three-day meeting was attended by representatives from International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), including from ICPO-Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Customs Organisation besides officials and NGOs from respective countries.