From forests to forensics: building networks to tackle the illicit wildlife trade in Southeast Asia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28th September 2018—this week, wildlife forensic scientists from seven countries in Asia and Africa as well as law enforcement officials from Malaysia came together for the ‘South Asia and East Asia Wildlife Forensics Network Meeting’ organised by TRACE Wildlife Forensics and TRAFFIC.
Forensic scientists from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Gabon received training on DNA testing techniques, chain of custody, and expert witness testimony in a mock court facilitated by legal experts from South Africa, while parallel sessions took place for 17 enforcement officers from Malaysia on aspects of sampling techniques, chain of custody and forensic process.
Participants also took the opportunity to visit the Malaysian National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory situated in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) Peninsular Malaysia Headquarters where techniques to sample ivory were demonstrated.
As illegal wildlife trade continues to gain attention across the globe as a serious crime synonymous with other high-value organised crime types, the importance of evidence to secure effective prosecution is ever vital. Wildlife forensic expertise in Asia and Africa has grown considerably in recent years through coordinated approaches and established networks of capacity. Routine events such as these, help reinforce the enabling factors required for forensic applications to support law enforcement efforts by creating trust-based relationships between laboratories and enforcement units, standardising lab procedures and harmonising protocols, sharing best practices to improve reliability and speed of results, and driving solution-based innovation.
Bringing together wildlife forensic scientists from different countries is really important as it allows us to share ideas, exchange best practice and discuss common issues
Dr. Kanita Ouitavon from the Wildlife Forensic Laboratory at the Department of National Parks of Thailand
“It’s been great having the chance to host colleagues from around the world here at Department of Wildlife and National Parks and to demonstrate the work we are doing to analyse ivory seizures. Malaysia is recognised as a transit country for shipments of ivory coming from Africa to end use markets in Asia, but we now the capacity to use forensic science in wildlife crime investigations.” Frankie Anak Thomas Sitam, Head of Forensic Unit at the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory (NWFL), Malaysia.
“The loss of forest elephants in my country of Gabon is driven entirely by the illegal wildlife trade. It’s very encouraging to see all the hard work being put into wildlife law enforcement in Southeast Asia which will ultimately contribute to the conservation of elephants in Africa. Our collaboration with the Malaysian authorities supported by this network has resulted in the joint forensic identification of ivory seized in Southeast Asia.” Dr. Stephanie Bourgeois, Gabon National Parks Agency.
The events this week were made possible through the financial support of the United States Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the Wildlife TRAPS Project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
About Wildlife TRAPS
The USAID-funded Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project is an initiative that is designed to secure a transformation in the level of co-operation between an international community of stakeholders who are impacted by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia. The project is designed to increase understanding of the true character and scale of the response required, to set priorities, identify intervention points, and test non-traditional approaches with project partners.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for the majority of overseas development assistance from the United States Government and works to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing security and prosperity for America and the world.
The UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime is a multi-year programme aiming to link existing regional efforts in a global system, enhancing capacity-building and wildlife law enforcement networks at regional and sub-regional levels. The Global Programme is working for and with the wildlife law enforcement community to ensure that wildlife crime, illegal logging, and related crimes are treated as serious transnational organized crimes. UNODC contributed to this event as part of the law enforcement and demand management of wildlife in Asia project financed by the European Union.