Lessons learned from cross border collaboration on fighting wildlife crime
Organized by WWF as part of a US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs funded activity, this meeting was attended by the Provincial Wildlife Enforcement Networks (P-WENs) of Chiang Rai Province in Thailand and Bokeo, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay provinces in Laos, as well as representatives of courts and prosecutor offices. Held in collaboration with the Chiang Rai Governor and the Chief Justice of the Court of Region Five covering northern Thailand, this was the culmination of five years of cross-sectoral and transboundary cooperation in a region globally known for wildlife, drug and human trafficking.
The Chief Justice of the Court of Region Five, the Honorable Panthong Summath, opened the meeting, welcoming everyone and congratulating the participants for accomplishing key milestones on cross-border and inter-agency collaborations. “Working across sectors and across borders is critical if we are to effectively disrupt the illicit trafficking of wildlife happening in our region. This project has contributed to critical improvements in communication, capacity, and understanding of wildlife trafficking and traffickers.”
Under the project, P-WEN members in Thailand and Laos established formal and informal communications channels so that they could be in touch regarding intelligence on wildlife trafficking cases. This has led to a number of seizures, including cases that involved drugs as well as wildlife, concretely showing that illegal activities are not done in isolation, and lending credence to the need to crack down on wildlife crime to combat other crimes. Joint patrols have also been organized, so that Thai and Lao authorities are active on both sides of key trafficking hotspots along the border, making it harder for criminals to use the change in jurisdiction to their benefit.
Another achievement of the project is the establishment of fully functional P-WENs in Thailand. While national and even regional WENs had been tried in the past, the establishment of the Chiang Rai P-WEN was a proof of concept for the Thai government. Given the success of the model and the good outcomes achieved in the last five years, Thailand has worked to establish additional P-WENs in other border provinces vulnerable to wildlife trafficking based on the Chiang Rai WEN model, investing its own resources to replicate successes. The project has also developed a P-WEN curriculum as part of the project’s legacy, which can be used in either country to continue the work beyond the project end.
In addition to the enforcement agencies, the project aimed to close an existing gap between enforcement, prosecution and the courts by working with prosecutors and judges to create effective judicial disincentives for wildlife criminals. This included training on the impacts of wildlife crime on nature, people, and security, and the provision of tools for the prosecution and judiciary to use to fairly and justly adjudicate wildlife crimes. This includes a set of prosecution guidelines, which were presented at the meeting in Chiang Rai, and which can be used by wildlife investigators and prosecutors, who may not be experts in wildlife, to ensure that the sentence for a wildlife crime is appropriate for the severity of the crime.
“This project has really shown us what is possible when we work together,” said Mr. Nuwat Leelapata of the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. “Wildlife trafficking has long been a low risk high reward venture. With the progress we have made, we are reversing this trend and ensuring that wildlife crime will no longer seem worth it for those who are involved.”
In order to ensure that there is sustainability and longevity for the work that has been done under this project, WWF will hold meetings to sensitize and advocate the approaches and tools developed under the project with national level authorities in November.