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US launches campaign against Asian wildlife trade amid bird flu threat
WASHINGTON: Amid the danger of an avian flu pandemic, the United States launched a global coalition to lobby Asian governments to tighten enforcement on wildlife trafficking.
The growing trade in smuggled wildlife, according to experts, has increased the risk of infection by the avian influenza virus, which has killed at least 63 people in Southeast Asia.
The US-led global Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking "will focus its initial efforts on Asia, a major supplier of black-market wildlife and wildlife parts to the world," the State Department said. The coalition "will focus political and public attention on growing threats to wildlife from poaching and illegal trade," it said.
Seven major US-based environmental and business groups with global interests and programs have joined the coalition, the department said, adding that government and non-government partners from Asia and Europe were expected to join in the coming months.
Deputy US Assistant Secretary of State for Environment Claudia McMurray announced the formation of the coalition at the conclusion of the prestigious Wildlife Film Festival in Jackson Hole in Wyoming state on Friday.
Unchecked demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines is driving tigers, elephants, rhinos, unusual birds and many other species to the brink of extinction, threatening global biodiversity, a State Department statement said. "Added to this is the alarming rise in virulent zoonotic diseases, such as SARS and avian influenza, crossing species lines to infect humans and endanger public health," it warned.
Three patients under observation with symptoms of bird flu in Indonesia had visited a zoo infected with the H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) believe the dreaded disease is spread by wild species, which carry the virus from infected areas and pass it to other flocks at stop-off points along their globe-crossing migratory routes.
In Europe, animal welfare organisations have reportedly appealed to the European Union to halt imports of wild birds, claiming that the exotic pet trade is increasing the risk of bird flu reaching the continent.
Leading environmental and quarantine agencies in Australia say the lucrative trade in illegally obtained wildlife presents a significant disease risk in the country. Partners in the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking are already working with the government of Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the State Department said.
The Thai government will in October host a regional wildlife trafficking workshop for law enforcement officials and officials responsible for compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
"Soon after the workshop, Southeast Asian environment ministers are expected to announce the development of a regional wildlife trafficking law enforcement network," it said. No details of the network were immediately available.
William Armbruster, a State Department spokesman, said the coalition "expands on the CITES effort by forming a structure to work with non-governmental organisations to address the same issues and concerns."
Last year, ASEAN member states -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- agreed to develop a regional action plan on trade in wild flora and fauna.
Wildlife trafficking is a soaring black market worth 10 billion dollars a year, second only to arms and drug smuggling, according to the State Department. - AFP /ch
ASEAN combats illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia
WWF website, 26 May 05
ASEAN stands firm against illegal wildlife trade
Written and produced by Daphne Koh Radio Singapore International website, 6 Jun 05
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