Laos and Thailand Join Hands to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

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More than 80 representatives from wildlife relevant enforcement agencies from Thailand and Laos met in Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai Province, Thailand on 14 and 15 September to report back on collaborative counter wildlife trafficking actions taken since August 3-5 when the PWENs met in Huay Xai, Bokeo Province, Laos.

38 participants from the Chiang Rai Provincial Wildlife Enforcement Network (P-WEN) welcomed 47 representatives from the P-WENs of Bokeo, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay provinces in Laos, 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 fighting wildlife trafficking in the Golden Triangle, this cross border collaboration meeting was implemented in collaboration with the Office of the Governor of Chiang Rai Province. Co-chaired by the Deputy Governor of Chiang Rai Province, Waradisorn Onnuch, and the Deputy Director General of the Department of Forest Inspection Lao PDR, Sounantha Chounlamany, the meeting builds on a similar event that took place last month, in which representatives of provincial offices of forest inspection, natural resources and environmental police, and customs, among others, came together to reinvigorate cross border relations with their counterparts and recommit to collaboration to combat the transboundary wildlife trade.

The PWEN members represent the provinces in Thailand and Laos that are located in the Golden Triangle, a border region that is notorious for the wildlife trade, as well as other illicit transboundary trades, including drugs, human, and arms trafficking. These PWENs are composed of various provincial departments and ministries with a purview to combat the illegal wildlife trade, ensuring cross sectoral collaboration. This and previous meetings are organized to encourage, not only this cross-ministerial collaboration, but transboundary collaboration as well.

The Deputy Governor of Chiang Rai Province opened the meeting by welcoming the delegation from Laos, stating that he was encouraged to see so many familiar faces and was looking forward to hearing the progress that had been made in addressing transboundary trade since the PWENs had met in Bokeo. He said that building trust between the two sides was the most effective way to ensure that the response to transboundary trafficking was effective.

The Deputy Director General of the Department of Forest Inspection followed, stating that he was encouraged by the collaboration between not only the provincial officials, but between the two countries, and hoped that the steps taken during the cross-border meetings would lead to more effective oversight of transboundary illicit wildlife trade and would continue into the future.

During the previous meeting in Bokeo, the participants had recommitted to operationalizing improved mechanisms for cross border collaboration, including improving communication and sharing information that has the potential to help with investigations, confiscations and arrests. They also agreed to report back on any progress made as a result of cross-border cooperation.

Since the PWEN members had met last month, enforcement officers from three key border checkpoints – Chiang Khong and Huay Xay, Chinag Saen and Ton Pheung, and Wiang Kaeng and Pak Tha – reported back that they had successful communications, both formal and informal, between the two sides, with many agencies coordinating patrolling efforts along the Mekong River. In a few instances, tip-offs had been shared about specific traders or wildlife crossing the border that had resulted in confiscations of illicitly trafficked muntjacs, sunbears, and over 250 flying squirrels, among others. One case, which is still under investigation in order to be prosecuted, involved both wildlife and 250,000 methamphetamine pills being trafficked together, showing the convergence of wildlife crimes with other illicit trades. 

“This is very encouraging,” said Mr. Neuwat Leelapata of the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. “In just one month, the efforts of your collaboration have yielded concrete results that show that when we work together, we can not only intercept wildlife trafficking, but build stronger cases that will act as an effective deterrent for wildlife traffickers.”

In order to ensure that the prosecutorial and judicial sectors will issue fair sentences for wildlife cases, WWF and partners have been working to train judges and prosecutors in target areas to improve their understanding of the serious impacts brought about by wildlife trafficking. To bring these two work streams together, a meeting will be held in Chiang Rai in October where PWEN members and the judicial and prosecutorial sectors from the two countries will share lessons learned, celebrate major achievements and reinforce the different roles that they each play in effectively combating transboundary wildlife trafficking in the Greater Mekong Region and beyond.