Transboundary Cooperation Reignited to Counter Wildlife Trafficking

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Vice Governor of Bokeo Province, Mr. Keuangphet Vongchan, and the Vice Governor of Chiang Rai Province, Mr. Waradisorn Onnuch.

Almost 100 representatives from wildlife relevant enforcement agencies from Laos and Thailand met in Huay Xai, Bokeo Province on 3-5 August to rekindle cross border cooperation to combat transboundary wildlife crime after a two year hiatus due to Covid-19.

46 participants from the Chiang Rai Provincial Wildlife Enforcement Network (P-WEN) crossed the border at Chiang Khong to meet with 51 representatives from the the P-WENs of Bokeo, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay provinces, as well as representatives of the national WEN.

Organized by WWF as part of the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs funded project on combating wildlife trafficking in the Golden Triangle, this cross border collaboration meeting was implemented in collaboration with the Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office of Bokeo Province

46 participants from the Chiang Rai Provincial Wildlife Enforcement Network (P-WEN).

Co-chaired by the Vice Governor of Bokeo Province, Keuangphet Vongchan, and the Vice Governor of Chiang Rai Province, Waradisorn Onnuch, the meeting builds on previous cross border meetings in which representatives of provincial offices of forest inspection, natural resources and environmental police, and customs, among others, came together to discuss how best to address the transboundary wildlife trade.

Considered the fourth most lucrative illegal global trade after human, drug and arms trafficking, the illegal wildlife trade is particularly active in the Golden Triangle, a border region notorious for various illicit trades. The transboundary nature of the crime requires a cross-border and cross-agency approach to effectively disrupt and discourage the trade.

The Vice Governor of Bokeo Province opened the meeting by welcoming the delegation from Thailand, stating that the collaboration between the two countries, and particularly the border provinces, is critical if wildlife trafficking and wildlife crime are to be effectively disrupted. He stated that existing agreements between the provinces created a strong foundation for collaboration to counter wildlife trafficking.

The Vice Governor of Chiang Rai Province followed, stating that the ability to collaborate across the border is an important tool in effectively combating wildlife trafficking and wildlife crime.

Giving the long hiatus imposed by COVID-19, he stated that this cross border meeting was timely and a good opportunity to once again improve the good relationships between agencies, and to rebuild the foundation of trust needed to facilitate collaboration between enforcement agencies so that the work guarding the border and protecting wildlife can continue effectively.

Bokeo and Chiang Rai provinces presented some of the existing regulations and ongoing counter wildlife trafficking activities that had been conducted since the last meeting. In Bokeo, a major transboundary case was the confiscation of over 500kg of trafficked deer antlers, feline bones and elephant tusks in Ton Pheung district in 2019.

Those products, estimated to have a value of over US$60,000, were confiscated and successfully prosecuted in the Lao court. In Chiang Rai, many confiscations of wildlife being brought across the border from Laos by boat had taken place at Cham Pong market – the site of a confiscation that took place in 2019 during a previous cross border collaboration meeting. 13 confiscations and three arrests have been made since this time.

In order to ensure that the cooperation between countries is possible, the participants discussed mechanisms for cross border collaboration. It was agreed that officials that work on either side of border crossings should be able to contact each other informally to share information that would help with investigations, confiscations and arrests associated with wildlife crimes.

One tip off was already shared based on the relationships built under the project in 2020, when officials in Bokeo provided a tip off to the wildlife inspection unit of Chiang Kong district, leading to the confiscation of muntjac meat that was being trafficked across the border.

Participants recommitted to these cooperation mechanisms and agreed to report back on progress made as a result of cross-border cooperation.

As part of the workshop, participants also visited the 4th Lao-Thai friendship bridge to observe how the border operations are conducted.

Special attention was given to the use of x-ray technology to check the contents of container trucks that cross the border, some of which are transiting between China and Thailand via Laos. This technology can be used to flag suspicious cargo.

Although informal communications between the two sides of the border already exist, the workshop participants identified enabling communication to provide intelligence and tip-offs at specific border checkpoints among related agencies as a positive way to improve interception of wildlife contraband, as well as other illegal trade that may be crossing at key checkpoints.

They also identified improved capacity to identify wildlife and intercept personal vehicles at borders as an existing challenge that makes disrupting the trade difficult. Sensitizing and incentivizing local communities and travelers to join in the effort to combat the wildlife trade was also flagged as a critical activity.

Another cross-border meeting is scheduled for September in Chiang Rai, Thailand when Lao enforcement agencies will cross the border to report on progress made in the intervening month.