Canada Joins Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2007 (ENS) - Canada has become the newest member of the international Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, Canadian Environment Minister John Baird announced Thursday during a news conference at Washington’s National Zoo.

An initiative of the United States, the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking was founded in 2005 and, with the addition of Canada, has grown to include five countries and 14 international conservation and industry organizations.

"I welcome the opportunity, especially during Canada’s National Wildlife Week, to join an international coalition whose purpose is to enhance the protection of wildlife throughout the world," said Minister Baird.

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Canadian Environment Minister John Baird celebrated Canadian Wildlife Week by joining the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"Following the drug and arms trade, the trade of endangered and threatened wildlife and wildlife parts is now the third largest illegal trade in the world, worth about $10 billion a year," he said.

The wildlife trade is also is becoming attractive to organized crime, Baird pointed out. Increasingly, law enforcement authorities are finding that criminals engaged in the illegal capture of or trade in wildlife also are involved in narcotics and arms trafficking.

The international coalition, whose government members include the United States, Australia, India and the United Kingdom, and now Canada, aims to address the illegal trade of plants and animals.

"We welcome Canada as a partner in this global alliance dedicated to combating criminal activity - activity that is threatening so many wildlife species with extinction," said Claudia McMurray, U.S. State Department assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, who joined Baird at the zoo.

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Claudia McMurray is the U.S. State Department assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"We look forward to robust collaboration that will build on the Coalition’s work to halt the loss of biodiversity by curbing both the supply and demand for wildlife and wildlife products," she said.

Demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies, and traditional medicines is driving tigers, elephants, rhinos, birds and many other species to the brink of extinction, threatening global biodiversity. International wildlife trade can contribute to the rise in virulent wildlife diseases, such as avian influenza and the Ebola virus, that can cross species lines to infect humans and endanger public health.

"Wildlife trafficking is undermining wildlife protection and driving many species on our planet to the brink of extinction," Baird said. "We need worldwide cooperation if we are to safeguard certain species from extinction."

The Canadian government's fiscal year 2007 budget allocated C$22 million in additional funding to strengthen Canada's capacity to enforce Environmental protection laws and allocated C$110 million over the next two years for more effective implementation of the Species at Risk Act.

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A black bear in British Columbia, Canada. These bears are illegally hunted for their bile, which is believed to have medicinal properties. (Photo courtesy Sierra Club Canada)
"This funding will help ensure our pollution and wildlife protection laws are respected," said Baird.

At the National Zoo, Director John Berry told the dignitaries that every animal on the Asia Trail at the zoo is endangered today because of commercial exploitation.

"Much of that exploitation is illegal in nature," he said. "And as our population grows many of these animals which have been able to have been sustainably used by humans over thousands of years unfortunately today with our numbers we cannot sustain that commercial usage."

Berry gave credit to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty that entered into force in 1975.

"But what was done in 1970s lacks the teeth that are needed in this century," said Berry. "And so many organizations are working hard to strengthen the controls on this illegal trade."

The Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking seeks to help developing countries combat illegal wildlife capture and trade and encourage conservation and sustainable use of native species by enhancing wildlife governance and law enforcement, fostering cross-border cooperation against wildlife trafficking, developing economic incentives to conserve wildlife or use it sustainably, and reducing demand for illegal wildlife.

Coalition partners have established the ASEAN Wildlife Law Enforcement Network, which has worked to break smuggling rings dealing in endangered or threatened species and played a key role in opening communications between Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia that led to the repatriation of 48 stranded orangutans.

The coalition supports public relations campaigns to increase public awareness of the harm done by trafficking and to change consumption patterns that create demand for illegally taken wildlife.

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Endangered cheetahs rest in the shade. Head of the Cheetah Conservation Fund Dr. Laurie Marker attended Canada's announcement event at the National Zoo. (Photo courtesy Cheetah Conservation Fund)
The coalition also assists with training workshops for law enforcement personnel, encourages efforts to establish transboundary conservation areas and migration corridors based on established natural ranges and patterns of movement, and supports strengthening legal and judicial systems to set tough penalties for wildlife crime.

Coalition efforts target supply regions like South Asia, the Amazon, Central Africa and Central America; consumer nations such as China, Japan and the United States that receive the products; and transit regions like southern Africa and some East Asian nations.

Organizations that are members of the coalition are - IUCN-the World Conservation Union, American Forest and Paper Association, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Conservation International, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Save The Tiger Fund, Smithsonian Institution, Traffic International, WildAid, Wildlife Alliance, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.