Tiger Enforcement Task Force to target criminal networks


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PRESS RELEASE

Tiger Enforcement Task Force to target criminal networks

Geneva/New Delhi, 30 March 2001 - The first meeting of the CITES Tiger Enforcement Task Force will be in held in New Delhi next week from 2 to 4 April. The Task Force will include experts and officials from Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, and Nepal - all important tiger range states - as well as from Canada and the Netherlands, which are consumer countries.

The meeting will address strengthening the profile of wildlife crime enforcement; specialized wildlife enforcement units and anti-poaching work; the judiciary and prosecution authorities; inter-agency, cross-border and international cooperation; and liaison with Interpol and the World Customs Organization. Progress on these broad issues would also be of great benefit to other vulnerable plant and animal species

The Task Force meeting will be followed a national workshop on 5 April that will feature discussions between the Task Force members and Chief Wildlife Wardens from across India about recent poaching and illegal trade incidents. These activities of wildlife criminals cause the death and injury of national enforcement officers every year.

"The CITES Tiger Enforcement Task Force is a vital initiative for saving the tiger from extinction," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. "By bringing together tiger and law enforcement experts from around the world, we aim to give tiger protection the technical support it so badly needs."

"It is particularly appropriate that India, the country where the largest number of tigers are still to be found, has offered to host this first meeting of the Task Force," he said.

In 1999, a CITES Tiger Missions Technical Team of law enforcement and wildlife trade experts visited 14 tiger range and consumer States in North America, Europe and Asia. The Team's report was subsequently accepted in full by the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in April 2000. One of the team's primary recommendations was the creation of a Tiger Enforcement Task Force to help countries tackle the illegal killing of tigers and illegal trade in their parts and derivatives.

The Technical Team also urged increased training for officials in Asia tasked with protecting the tiger and its habitat and with combating illegal trade in its parts and derivatives. As a follow-up to this recommendation, an official from the CITES secretariat will meet the Joint Director of India's National Police Academy in Hyderabad on 30 March 2001, just before the Task Force meeting, to discuss the possibility of the Academy helping to train operational enforcement personnel.

The 1999 report confirmed strong evidence that the Indian tiger population is being heavily poached by organized wildlife crime networks. Because India still boasts the world's largest tiger population, this poaching poses a serious threat to the species' survival in the wild. Increased anti-poaching efforts are essential.

From a population of over 100,000 in the 19th century, the Earth's wild tiger population has plummeted to an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 individuals. Tigers range from India and Russia to China and Southeast Asia, but with several sub-species thought to be already extinct, the species' long-term survival is now at stake.

Tiger hunting is now illegal everywhere, and international trade in tigers and tiger products is completely banned under CITES. Nevertheless, habitat destruction continues at a rapid pace, live tigers enter the illegal exotic pet trade, tiger skins are bought and sold, and tiger parts are sought for presumed health benefits.

Note to journalists: The Technical Team report is posted at www.cites.org; go to CITES documents, then Standing Committee, 42nd Meeting, Doc. SC42.10.4. For further information, please contact Michael Williams in Geneva at +41-22-9178242 or mwilliams@unep.ch.