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  Radio Singapore International 15 Nov 05
APEC to enhance bio-security to keep out "invasive alien species"

Member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, plan to develop an Alien Species Strategy Framework during their ministerial meeting in Busan, South Korea this week.

This, to combat the spread of invasive plant and animal species such as killer bees and snakehead fish. These have been have been known to cause economic and environmental damage when introduced into the eco-systems of countries to which they are not native.

For more on the impact of invasive plant and animal species, Yvonne Gomez spoke to James Compton, Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, in Kuala Lumpur

JC: Snakehead fish, if they get into an ecosystem where they are not native, they are known to eat other fish. They are predatory, and they occupy the niche within ecosystems of species that are native to those ecosystems. So in other words, they replace and consume in those new ecosystems.

If we talk specifically about this region, the Southeast Asian region, Can you give me other examples of invasive flora or fauna that have had a negative impact on plant and animal life in the wild here?

JC: Well, the easiest one to talk about, in terms of plant life, would be the water hyacinth which you see in almost every waterway in Southeast Asia, which has probably been brought in by a ship or visiting craft that brought the seeds or the young plants in from other places and they get right into river ecosystems and go upstream. They’ve got nice purple flowers, but they generally clog and choke up wetlands very quickly. In terms of animal species, the most common invasive reptile is probably the redhead slider turtle, which is from North America and is very popular in the pet market trade here in Southeast Asia. They’re only attractive when they’re young, when they have the red stripes on the sides of their heads but these fade as they get older. So for pet collectors, they’re not so attractive when they’re three or four years old, and a lot of them get dumped into sewers and small waterways, streams, wetlands and again, they take over the niche of native species here in the wild in Southeast Asia.

APEC members are reportedly working on a framework strategy to tighten controls on invasive species. What role does customs and immigration play within this framework?

JC: Well I think, like the trade of endangered species of wildlife flora and fauna, there are many instances where one agency is not enough, and customs could be working more effectively with quarantine and with wildlife agencies at airports and border crossings between countries to check passenger luggage. There’s your link with immigration in case people are bringing these plants or animals in using their hand carry luggage. But also with cargo agencies and looking at commercial levels of transport to see whether animals or plants are coming in with container loads of other commodities.

In terms of wildlife trafficking, which is the work you’re involved in, to try and combat it, how far do you think any strategy that APEC comes up with to deal with the invasive alien species would have to consider the existing CITES legislation?

JC: I think it’s very important to make sure that these initiatives are linked. The APEC work that might be looking at killer bees or snakehead fish, should also be taking into consideration the link to quarantine and avian flu, and other animal diseases. It should be linked, as you say, to the CITES legislation and enforcement that’s already in place in most countries in Southeast Asia. The more that various law enforcement agencies are working together, the more momentum and coherent approach to stopping a number of these threats to humans, wildlife and general ecosystems’ survival, can be successful.

Related articles on Singapore: wildlife trade and Singapore: animal release
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