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Thailand Calls for Wildlife Trade Enforcement

The Thai government is calling for broader regional support to police illegal wildlife trafficking, especially to China. Thailand is training more than 200 Bangkok airport personnel to assist in the recovery of wildlife trafficked through the international gateway.

A new campaign is being undertaken through the Association of South East Asian Nations wildlife enforcement network to stem the wildlife trade estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year.

ASEAN wildlife trafficking expert, Steve Galster says airports are the key transit location in the illegal trade.

"A bulk of the illegal wildlife trade is actually going through airports on commercial airlines and cargo airplanes and to put a dent in the trade you really have to go after a big part of the trade," he said.

The wildlife trade regulation training includes airport staff and freight forwarding companies. The trainees learn identification and how to handle commonly traded protected species.

Galster says the campaign aims to create a model applicable to other regional airports. USAID is a key backer of the program, now in its fifth year.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John said increasing policing at the international airport is a first step towards broader regional program.

"When you are looking at trafficking it really is a regional, global effort, and so Thailand stepping up to the plate as a critical U.S. partner and leading the effort in the region is absolutely essential to the success," he said.

The illegal trade of wildlife initially came under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora launched in 1975. But law enforcement and animal protection groups saw a need for increased cooperation to halt the multi-million-dollar trade.

China and the United States as well as Europe are the key destinations for much of the wildlife trafficked out of Asia. The main sources of animals are in the rich biodiversities of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma. The smugglers often use transport links through Thailand and Vietnam.

ASEAN says in the second half of 2008, more than 2,500 live animals were rescued and more than four tons of carcasses seized.

Thailand Minister for Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti says regional cooperation and policing beyond ASEAN are needed.

"We have seen that within ASEAN it is still a need to strengthen the better cooperation among all of us, especially cross border areas, which we have the law enforcement on both sides," he said. "So it is not only ASEAN, but its outside ASEAN that is consuming all these strange animals, wildlife and flora and fauna - we need to stop that."

ASEAN is looking to other countries in the region, especially Japan, South Korea and China, as well as Australia and New Zealand in seeking assistance and financial support to boost the regional policing efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade.