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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Southeast Asian Wildlife Trade Report
The Symposium began this morning with a pretty depressing, albeit critical update on the status of Southeast Asian carnivores in the wildlife trade by Chris Shepherd, regional director of TRAFFIC, an organization focused on monitoring the market of wildlife. Despite all the efforts to address this issue, Chris reported that the Asian trade now is bigger than ever and has reached crisis proportions where we may be near the tipping point of large scale species loss. This loss is driven by an insatiable appetite for wildlife and wildlife products in Asia, particularly China, although the U.S. is another major market for smugglers of illegal wildlife products.

The reasons for trade Chris profiled are the usual suspects: skins, trophies, medicinal uses, and meat. Some scary new statistics:  a recent one-day survey in a notorious wildlife market on the border of Thailand and Myanmar netted a count of 120 clouded leopard skins! A survey of restaurants in peninsular Malaysia resulted in 900 found to be serving wild meat, including bear, civets, and tiger. And hundreds of thousands of civets are exported from Vietnam to China each year.

In the case of carnivores such as civets, many species targeted are almost certain to be depleted before research has even made a dent in studying them. There is little baseline data on populations so the impact of trade is virtually unknown. So why is trade in these species escalating without any appreciable way to stop it?

First, while tiger and clouded leopard trade may draw attention, small carnivores have no real flagship species to draw support and don't attract the attention of conservation donors. Small carnivores are also a low priority for wildlife law enforcement, and most people know little about this group of animals including researchers, enforcement agencies, and the public in general. There are tools of wildlife laws, CITES treaties, and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, but these tools cannot be successful without prioritizing study of impacts and enforcement. In addition, the laws protecting these species vary considerably; on the island of Borneo there are four different sets of laws with little cooperation and collaboration among the governments.

Chris summarized his presentation by making the following recommendations:
  • Initiate long-term monitoring of the status of small carnivores
  • Measure the impact of trade and hunting on these species
  • Increase enforcement efforts and support for these efforts
  • Assess and amend national legislation to provide better protection
  • Standarize laws and enforcement procedures
  • Address hunting issues when conducting conservation planning
  • Identify funding strategies to support small carnivore conservation efforts
  • Develop materials to raise the profile of small carnivores and concern for their conservation
It's quite an ambitious list and time is running out, but hopefully this meeting will be an important step in giving these species the attention and priority needed for their conservation on Borneo.

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