Wildlife trafficking trainings continue in Bhutan

The day-long workshops were part of IFAW-WTI’s ongoing wildlife crime control efforts in association with Bhutan’s Department of Forests and Park ServicesThe story was sent by Amrit Menon, Technical Officer to ED, Planning, Wildlife Trust of India.—VM

Even though he has seen a lot of pangolins, one Customs Department official posted near the border had never seen a pangolin scale, which is one of the most illegally traded items on a global scale.

That is why this participant found one of a series of four workshops on countering wildlife trafficking at the Indo-Bhutan border so helpful.

The workshops were conducted in the border towns of Gelephu, Samste, Phunstholing and Samdrupjongkhar in June. Selected representatives from Bhutan attended the workshop, including 129 enforcement officials from various enforcement agencies. Personnel from Army, Police, Customs, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority and Forest Department participated in these workshops.

A police officer takes a pictureThe day-long workshops were part of IFAW-WTI’s ongoing wildlife crime control efforts in association with Bhutan’s Department of Forests and Park Services, which was started in 2011.

With these workshops at the border area, IFAW-WTI team aims to sensitise various enforcement agencies on wildlife crimes and the importance of countering it effectively to ensure that the wildlife goods from India do not enter into the transit route.

“As we work in the border area, we come across various types of cross border crimes and the possibility of wildlife trafficking happening in the area cannot be ruled out. Since we don’t have the necessary expertise to identify trafficked goods and people involved in wildlife crimes, we often fail to recognize them. As a person who is responsible for screening foreigners who enter into the country for work or business, I need to know more about such crimes too,” said Sonam Tshering, Regional Liaison Officer with Bhutan’s Immigration Department. He was one of those who attended the training at Gelephu.

A sample used in the training The Indo-Bhutan border sees a lot of movement of goods and people and considering how porous these borders are, it is becoming a favorite route for wildlife traffickers who use this route to smuggle goods to China and other countries. The instances of wildlife seizures by enforcement agencies have seen a sharp spike in these bordering towns in the recent past. “It is strategically important to counter crimes at the border where chances of detection of illegal goods are much higher. We need to ensure that all these enforcement agencies can detect wildlife goods at the border”, said Jose Louies, IFAW- WTI trainer.

Mr. Chhoglay Namgyal, Forestry Officer, Forestry Protection and Surveillance Unit, Bhutan, during his sessions discussed in great detail the legal procedures such as detaining a suspect, fines as per the law, what to do with the seized goods and rewards for the staff.

Most of the participants had first time experience of examining real and fake wildlife goods such as skins of tiger, leopard and clouded leopard. Samples of ivory, bones, pangolin scales, fake and genuine musk pods, bear bile samples, et al, were also put on display.

Examining fake rhino hornParticipants were very inquisitive about these items and discussions spilled over tea breaks as trainers were explaining and clarifying doubts on identifying various wildlife articles, their use and which animal they belong to.

Mr. Sonam Wangdi, Chief Forestry Officer, Samtse Forest Division, was quick to act and started an interagency group that would share information related to wildlife crimes with all enforcement agencies since inter-agency coordination on crime management was found to be an area that needed major improvement in countering wildlife crimes.

“Since my team is working across the country monitoring wildlife and forestry crimes, support and involvement from other enforcement agencies will help us a lot. Each of these enforcement agencies can pick up information and pass the same to our unit, or work together on specific leads which could result in busting of gangs and preventing wildlife trafficking across Bhutan,” said Mr. Namgyal. Mr. Dorji from the Royal Bhutan Police said that this is the first time he is attending a training exercise on wildlife crime management in 15 years of service.

Examination of a variety of wildlife goodsThe workshop also aimed to prevent wildlife crimes in Bhutan. Since Bhutan has a rich diversity of wildlife such as tiger, leopard, elephant and pangolin, it is considered a safe route for transporting wildlife products from India to China. This is the fourth training conducted by IFAW-WTI since 2011 in Bhutan on combating wildlife crimes in the country.

--AM

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