The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), represented by the Department of Forest Inspection (DoFI) signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Wide Fund for Nature Laos Office (WWF-Laos) today at an event at the Vientiane Plaza Hotel.
The MoU was signed by Mr. Somphone Keohavong, Director General of DoFI and Mr. Loris Palentini, Country Director of WWF Laos.
The Greater Mekong region, of which Lao PDR is a part, is, unfortunately, a source, transit, and consumption hub for illegally trafficked wildlife from Asia and other parts of the world. Collaboration between governments and government agencies, civil society organizations and the general public are key if this trafficking and the wildlife extinction it causes is to be effectively stopped.
“This five-year partnership will build on work that has already been started to enhance and expand existing wildlife crime prevention strategies and approaches in Lao PDR,” said Mr. Keohavong. “DoFI on behalf of MAF is committed to collaborating with WWF and other organizations to protect wildlife in Laos.”
The MoU has provisions to ensure that agencies and officials in the Lao-Wildlife Enforcement Network (Lao-WEN) and Provincial-Wildlife Enforcement Network (P-WEN) taskforce have the capacity necessary to support investigations, and enable intelligence-led enforcement actions that deliver effective Provincial, National, and International wildlife enforcement outcomes in Laos.
The new MoU represents a long-term commitment by WWF to support the Government of Lao PDR’s efforts to implement Prime Minister Order No.5 (PMO5) and meet its international obligation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). WWF aims to do this by supporting WEN agencies to strictly enforce wildlife laws, stop the establishment of illegal wildlife farms and investigate and prosecute those found trading prohibited wildlife. PMO5 is a landmark order supported by the important legal changes enacted under the Criminal Procedure Law and the New Penal Code.
“Safeguarding biodiversity by stopping wildlife trafficking is not just a conservation issue, but one of survival for all living creatures, including people, who cannot thrive in a world depleted of wildlife,” said Mr. Palentini.“
“The signing of this MOU marks the beginning of a new chapter in the alliance between the Government of Laos and WWF to proactively fight against wildlife exploitation in order to ensure a better and healthier future for the next generation of Lao citizens,” he said.
Key objectives of the MoU include: the formation of a Lao-WEN led rapid response interagency task force with highly trained officials to quickly and effectively investigate wildlife crime; provide advanced training for relevant law enforcement agencies in investigation and prosecution, including intelligence analysis capacity and how to combat the ever-growing online trade in wildlife; conducting financial investigations related to organized crime networks; and building strong wildlife crime cases that can be taken to court and prosecuted.
The MoU with WWF-Laos is also important because it reinforces the Government of Lao PDR’s willingness to work with other regional governments, WENs and international civil society organizations to fight organized crime and business networks that engage in the transboundary trade of wildlife.
As a serious international crime, wildlife trafficking requires a trans-national response, and the signing of this MoU is yet another step towards achieving a united front against wildlife crime.