U.N. University to fight illicit wildlife trade

by Tetsuji Ida

Kyodo News

United Nations University in Tokyo is developing an information system aimed at collecting reports on poaching and illegal wildlife trade in Asia.

The university hopes to gather information through an international network, evaluate it and offer it to law enforcement-related authorities in various countries.

The Internet-based system will aid in identifying and monitoring routes of illicit trade.

The Asia Conservation Alliance Task Force, established by groups centering on the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, will cooperate with the university in collecting the data. Forty-two organizations in 13 countries, including China, India and Japan, will take part in the task force.

The system’s database will consist of reports on illegal wildlife trade by the university as well as studies conducted by governments and conservation organizations of various nations.

In addition to offering the information to governmental and conservation organizations via the Internet and in the form of newsletters, the university will provide the data to Interpol, the secretariat of the Washington Convention and other international agencies.

The system will use animated graphics to illustrate areas of wildlife poaching, trade routes and the places where illegal goods are found.

The university plans to launch the system on a trial basis this year at the earliest, researcher Remi Chandran said.

According to the secretariat of the Washington Convention, which controls commercial transactions of endangered wildlife, Asia is a hotbed for illicit trade.

Tiger poaching for fur and animal parts used in herbal medicine is reported to have reduced their population to around 5,000. Tibetan antelope in China are reportedly facing extinction due to a spike in poaching and illegal exports of the animal’s fine down used to make high-priced “shatoosh” shawls.

Large amounts of African elephant ivory have reportedly been shipped to China in recent years, while Japan is described as the biggest market for pet reptiles illegally caught in Southeast Asia.

John Sellar of the secretariat said caviar and Tibetan antelope fetch extremely high prices, with the most expensive caviar going for 1,800 euro (270,000 yen) per 250 grams and a shatoosh shawl costing $20,000 (2.34 million yen). He also said that illicit wildlife trade has grown and become more international.