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Asian Authorities Try to Curb Wild Animal Trafficking

Asia's regional police forces and customs officials are joining together in the fight against the illegal trafficking of wildlife in Southeast Asia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is creating a police and customs task force to end illegal wildlife trafficking.

The decision came at a meeting in Bangkok this month of officials from ASEAN customs and police, Interpol, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.N.'s endangered species agency (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES).

They will join environment officials in the so-called ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), created in December.

The task force will address the close links between wildlife smuggling, drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

U.S. government data estimate the illicit wild animal trade generates more than $10 billion a year in profits and constitutes the third largest global black market after drugs and weapons.

Officials say there is much to be done to curb wildlife trafficking, which threatens biodiversity and pushes species to the brink of extinction.

But John Sellar, a senior U.N. anti-smuggling officer, says ASEAN's task force is a good step forward in the fight against the wildlife black market.

"I think there's great potential here," he said. "There's great promise, but I've been a cop too long to know that this is not going to happen overnight, but a very important start has been made here."

Sellar says that collaboration between government agencies will provide more information on transnational wildlife traffickers.

Representatives from China, a major destination in Asia for trafficked wildlife, attended the Bangkok meeting as observers. Sellar says this is a welcome development.

"China is very interested in this process, because clearly China is probably one of the world's greatest consumers of wildlife... undoubtedly takes a lot of the wildlife from this country and the sub-region," he added.

Training and investigative programs are now being put in place that will heighten public awareness, which is a key step in stopping the illegal wildlife trade.