Law enforcement officials from Southeast Asia, China and the United States are to meet in Thailand next month to form a regional body aimed at fighting the illegal trade in wildlife. Thai officials announced the meeting Friday at ceremonies marking International Tiger Day.

The president of the WildAid advocacy group, Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, says the Thai government has recognized that many wildlife species are threatened by demand for exotic pets, trophies, food and traditional medicines.

He praised the announcement by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of a new initiative to coordinate international efforts against wildlife trafficking.

"Prime Minister Thaksin has announced that Thailand will be the center for the networking of [wildlife trafficking] law enforcement," the senator explained. "So we are very encouraged."

He said officials from Southeast Asia, a major center for poaching and trafficking, along with China and the United States, which are major markets, are to discuss the proposal next month at a meeting in Thailand's oldest national park Khao Yai.

The announcement was made to mark the International Day of the Tiger, one of the world's most threatened animals. The number of tigers in the wild has fallen in the past 100 years from an estimated 100,000 to about 5,000 today. The $7 billion wildlife trade is also threatening elephants, rhinos, turtles, exotic birds and thousands of other species.

WildAid Director Steve Galster says more vigorous police action against poachers is helping. But he says other measures are needed.

"First is higher penalties and real prosecutions. Nobody has really gone to jail. The second problem is that wildlife traffickers are networking across borders and police are not. There's no mechanism yet. And finally, we've got to get China to close down the market,"  Mr. Galster said.

Activists note that many wealthy nations provide markets for illegal wildlife, but they say China, with its burgeoning economy and appetite for traditional medicines and exotic food, is providing most of the demand.

But they praise what they say is a new awareness by the Chinese government of the threat, and its willingness to participate in international efforts to combat the trade.