Combating the Asian big cat trade 2011-12

A film guide for enforcement officers located in India, Nepal, China and Vietnam.

Arresting the dramatic decline in wild tiger populations requires more targeted enforcement efforts to combat illegal trade. Increased attention to information-led anti-poaching efforts is reflected in Tiger Range Country National Action Plans, but a common enforcement gap is recognition of the need for an intelligence-led approach to disrupt the criminal networks often based in urban areas far from jungles where the animals are poached.

Environmental Investigation agency (EIA) has been working on identifying the nature of criminal operations, trade routes and mechanisms in illegal wildlife trade for over 25 years, and is a well-respected expert in the field of wildlife crime. For just under a decade, EIA’s Tigers in Crisis program has focussed on the illegal trade in tiger and other Asian big cat skins. Information generated from official seizures and investigations by EIA, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and others clearly indicates the presence of organised and transnational criminal networks involved in the trade.

Primary responsibility for wildlife law enforcement traditionally rests with forest and environment officials and in most countries, in the absence of appropriate training, officials tend not to pursue criminals, instead making seizures of specimens without further investigation.

© EIA

In 2006, EIA released a film guide for enforcement officers intending to fill this gap in capacity. The film illustrated to the professional enforcement community that the Asian big cat trade was indeed a form of serious organised crime, and encouraged forest /environment officers to focus on the people perpetrating the crimes, not just the victims of them.

The film was produced in consultation with the CITES Secretariat, and WPSI. Copies were distributed by CITES to law enforcement professionals only. EIA also distributed the film to participants at relevant meetings held by INTERPOL, the UNEP Green Customs Initiative and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The film was well received and requests for further copies received from many agencies.

There was a need to update the film to keep pace with the changing dynamics of the trade. Since 2006, EIA/WPSI investigations have revealed a shift in the end use of skins being trafficked through the same persistent networks between India, Nepal, Tibet and China. Bones are moving along the same routes, while open sources indicate increasing demand for tiger products in Vietnam.

The project involved  EIA obtaining new interviews with enforcement officers (forest, police & customs), and wildlife crime experts from India, Nepal, China and Vietnam who have a wealth of experience in the detection, investigation and enforcement of activities relating to wildlife crime. EIA consulted with WPSI and the CITES Secretariat, Chief of Enforcement Support and produced a high quality and invaluable awareness and training tool for enforcement officers on the frontline.

Currently the film has been translated it into Hindi, Nepali, Marathi,  Vietnamese and Mandarin. Plans to translate it into five other regional languages require additional funding.  EIA distributed the DVD via the CITES Secretariat and directly to enforcement contacts in the field.