A new arrangement with the United States will give the Philippines forensics tools to fight wildlife trafficking. The Philippines — composed of about 7,000 islands in the western Pacific — is a thoroughfare for the illegal trade of ivory and other animal products. The new bilateral agreement is only the most recent effort in a decade-long collaboration between the two countries to fight this growing multibillion-dollar business that threatens the conservation of rare species and their habitats. “This [Memorandum of Understanding] between our two countries exemplifies the sort of international cooperation that will help us win this fight and save species such as the African elephant and the rhino,” said Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director recently.
The new agreement will allow the Philippines use of FWS’s National Forensics Laboratory to provide court evidence against wildlife smugglers. Located in Oregon, the laboratory provides wildlife forensics services to support environmental law enforcement efforts in the United States. The laboratory also provides services to about 150 foreign countries — including the Philippines — who have signed the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. As part of the legal agreement, FWS scientists at the National Forensics Laboratory can use samples collected in the Philippines to identify the species of smuggled animals or animal parts, verify causes of animal death, determine if laws have been violated, and link suspects to crimes. In addition, scientists can testify in the country’s courts.
The bilateral agreement also has an educational component. “In addition to working on some of their cases, we’re going to start working with a group of scientists in the Philippines,” said Ken Goddard, Laboratory Director. “We’re going to be teaching wildlife evidence-handling techniques and wildlife forensics in general, with the idea that they will develop their own capability to examine the wildlife evidence.”
Goddard said the Philippines has 15 veterinarians that will serve as regional coordinators. The laboratory expects to train some of these coordinators directly. “Our intent is to have a dramatic impact on poachers and smugglers of wildlife in the Philippines.”
The new agreement was inspired by the Philippines’ history of combating wildlife smuggling. “We chose to partner with the Philippines because the Philippines government has demonstrated that it has both the will and the capacity to address natural resource law enforcement in a systematic and comprehensive manner,” said Barbara Pitkin, Director of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) International Technical Assistance Program. Pitkin has helped direct and oversee a decade-long partnership between the U.S. and the Philippines to fight wildlife trafficking. The Partnership for Biodiversity Conservation II Project is a joint program between the Philippine government, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the DOI to improve environmental law enforcement in the Philippines. The ongoing collaboration established an information system to record and track environmental law violations. The partnership has also trained Philippine law enforcement and court officials in environmental issues.
The productive alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines even facilitated the development of a Green Court system. In 2008, the Philippines established 117 trail courts specifically for cases involving violations of environmental laws. This environmental court system is one of the first in the world, and it’s becoming increasingly effective at preventing wildlife trafficking. This same court system will be charging Chinese fishermen recently accused of illegally trafficking almost 500 sea turtles in the South China Sea.
The new partnership with the National Forensics Laboratory should strengthen the Philippines’ Green Court system even further and discourage wildlife smuggling. “I am personally quite thrilled by this agreement. It represents a major step towards combating wildlife trafficking in the Philippines,” Pitkin said. According to Pitkin, the agreement could help the Philippines learn how to maintain its own wildlife forensics laboratory and possibly serve as a future resource to nearby nations battling wildlife smuggling.
Philippines press release, US press release, Transnational environmental crime in the Asia-Pacific, International Illegal Trade in Wildlife: Threats and U.S. Policy, Green Courts Initiatives in the Philippines, Written testimony of director Ashe
This article was originally published at The Wildlife Society, May 19, 2014.