VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - In a bid to stem rampant wildlife trade in Laos, a new initiative has been launched that encompasses a multifaceted programme of trade regulation, capacity building and dissemination of information to be implemented across five provinces.
Despite concerted efforts by officials to end the illegal wildlife trade through regular inspections at markets throughout the country, the trade continues to flourish.
To reduce illegal wildlife trading in Laos, especially in the main towns, the authorities have asked various agencies to join the Cooperative Action to Stop Illegal Wildlife Trade project.
The new collaborative initiative was revealed on Wednesday by officials from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Laos with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.
The agreement was signed by Director General of the Department of Forest Inspection at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Khamphout Phandanouvong and Director of Conservation Initiatives for the Mekong Region Christopher Holmes.
The five-year project will cost $832,350 (over 6.7 billion kip) and will be implemented in the provinces of Vientiane, Borikhamxay, Khammuan, Savannakhet and Champassak.
The project is supported by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the International Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Services.
With the support of these organisations, a multifaceted programme of trade regulation, capacity building and dissemination of information will be implemented in the target areas.
Currently, several animal species in Laos face a high risk of extinction, as they are overexploited in poor and rural areas. These species are generally hunted and killed for sale to individuals and restaurants.
Vientiane is the centre of the illegal wildlife trade due to its large population and access to the international market.
According to a recent report from the Department of Forest Inspection, wildlife is traded illegally for a variety of reasons, including for human consumption, keeping as pets, using as ingredients in traditional medicine and for releasing during festivals.
While loss of habitat poses an additional strain on wildlife populations, persistent overharvesting of species is leading to devastating results. The unsustainable harvesting of wildlife constitutes the single greatest danger for species on the decline.
The authorities continue to encourage restaurants and international border checkpoints to assist in enforcing control measures to prevent the illegal trade of protected species.
To end the illegal trade of wildlife, all sectors concerned should work together to increase public awareness of the value of biodiversity and the importance of conserving Laos' natural areas.
Since 2002, WCS has worked with various ministries and development partners to patrol markets and restaurants in search of people involved in the illegal trade. Many seizures continue to occur in Vientiane or other provinces as well.
In the hopes of changing the consciousness of the next generation, the department is undertaking public campaigns on the impact of illegal wildlife trading in schools and other entities throughout the country.