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27 Mar 06
World Must Tackle Wildlife Smuggling - UN Official
Story by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO - The world must do more to halt wildlife smuggling and slow extinctions caused by criminals such as a woman caught with the egg of an endangered bird in her bra, a UN official said on Friday.
Wildlife crime-busters have scant resources compared with squads devoted to stopping drugs or arms trading even though the products -- from caviar to shawls made from the wool of an endangered Tibetan antelope -- can sell for more than their weight in gold.
"Winning the battle against trafficking in narcotics, humans or firearms will be a long-term war," said John Sellar, senior enforcement officer of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
"But in wildlife crime several of the species don't have that time," he told Reuters. "And if this war is lost, unlike drugs or firearms, you can't go away and make any more."
Governments are meeting from March 20-31 in Curitiba, Brazil, to discuss how to protect the world's biodiversity under a UN goal set in 2002 to slow the loss of species by 2010. A UN study this week said humans were responsible for the worst wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.
The shadowy wildlife trade is adding to threats such as deforestation, pollution and global warming by feeding demand for tiger skins, shark fins, rare parrots or ground-up rhino horn used as a male potency aid in parts of Asia.
"One of the problems is that the reporting of data on wildlife crime is extremely haphazard. We don't have any feel for what is taking place compared to trafficking in firearms, humans or narcotics," Sellar said.
"If you're in the right type of wildlife crime the risks are minimal and it is very lucrative," said Sellar, a Scot and former policeman.
In Abu Dhabi last year, officials reported that one man had paid US$200,000 for an endangered falcon. Shawls of shahtoosh -- the wool of the rare Tibetan antelope -- can sell for US$20,000.
"We have many examples where the products are smuggled are worth -- weight for weight -- more than cocaine, heroine, gold or diamonds," he said.
Women have several times been caught with endangered bird eggs hidden in their bras -- an aid to incubation and far easier to transport than a squawking parrot.
Traffic, an international wildlife monitoring group, says legal wildlife trade totals billions of dollars, dominated by timber and fisheries. CITES regulates trade in 30,000 endangered species of plants and animals.
Sellar noted that the UN talks in Brazil, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, wanted more monitoring of wildlife trade because of bird flu. "We look forward to increased cooperation," he said.
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