LAHORE - WWF-Pakistan launched project ‘Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade by Establishing a National Monitoring Network that Benefits Local Communities and Environment’ in a ceremony at a local hotel yesterday.

This project is supported by USAID through its Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program.

It will be implemented with the involvement of the Ministry of Climate Change, Provincial Wildlife Departments, Pakistan Customs, Pakistan Rangers, Police, Civil Aviation Authorities and local communities.

Brig (r) Mukhtar Ahmad, Chairperson Wildlife Commission and Vice-president Emeritus, WWF-Pakistan, in the welcome address highlighted the need for government agencies to be proactive in effective enforcement of existing laws to curb illegal wildlife trade. He said that illicit wildlife trafficking is not only an environmental issue and should be treated as a crime and the root cause is usually livelihood support for marginalised communities which are exploited by illegal trade mafia.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Uzma Khan, Director Species Conservation, WWF-Pakistan said that previous experiences had revealed that illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan operates through a very well-organised network which could only be stamped-out through strengthening multi-stakeholder collaborations. She shed light on various aspects of the new project funded by USAID and informed that WWF plans to bring relevant stakeholders onboard to formulate a national level action plan to control illegal wildlife trade.

She added that national level assessment of the current scale of illegal wildlife trade, identification of important trade routes and key driving factors behind this issue will be important components of this project. Additionally, the new project will build capacities of relevant law enforcement agencies to monitor and control wildlife crimes through trainings and provision of the latest technologies.

Ahmer Bilal Soofi, President, WWF-Pakistan said that formulating a training module for the Customs Department and improving the awareness of judiciary on the subject of illegal wildlife trade is critical to improving capacity.

The efforts of wildlife authorities are in vain if the judiciary does not understand the severity of the issue.

Other speakers included experts from WWF-Pakistan, Saeed Baloch, Conservator Wildlife, Sindh; Sharif-ud-Din Baloch, Conservator Wildlife and National Parks, Balochistan; Abdul Razzaq, Director Wildlife and Forest Department, AJ&K; Safdar Ali Shah, Chief Conservator Wildlife, KP; Agha Ayaz Ibrahim, Director Wildlife and Parks Department, Punjab; Zulfiqar Younas, Director Trainings, Pakistan Customs and Kamran Malik, Senior Deputy Director, Public Relations, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Speakers acknowledged that the existing capacity to fight wildlife trafficking is insufficient both at the local and national level, highlighting the need to take consolidated steps against the issue on an emergency basis given the scale and high level of threat which illegal trade posses to biodiversity.