Opening Ceremony of the 2nd Prevention of Wildlife Trade Training,
Paro, Bhutan – February 10, 2014
“Mr. Vivek Menon, CEO of the Wildlife Trust of India and Regional Head for South Asia, International Fund for Animal Welfare;
Mr. Kelvin Alie, Director, Wildlife Crime, International Fund for Animal Welfare;
Dr. ElSayed Mohamed, Regional Director for the Middle East, International Fund for Animal Welfare;
Mr. Andreas Andreou, Environmental Crime Program, INTERPOL General Secretariat, Lyon, France;
Distinguished colleagues from the Wildlife Trust of India,
Dasho Dzongda of Paro, Director Generals and Sectors Heads of the RNR family, Director of Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservaton, and Country Representative of WWF Bhutan Programe.
Participants of this training program, and colleagues from Paro and Thimphu.
Today, as we launch the 2nd training on prevention of wildlife trade, in my capacity as head of the renewable natural resources sector in Bhutan, I am most delighted to have this opportunity to observe the vast expertise brought to this hall, to not only learn of current global best practices in wildlife conservation, but to ensure our colleagues throughout government and law enforcement receive the fundamental skills and knowledge from the some of the world’s foremost experts in their respective fields.
Although all of us here are familiar with the scientific and socio-economic aspects of our natural heritage, it is worth dwelling on at least three basic facts, so that they serve as a daily reminder of some of the most fundamental tenets to our existence and our common future.
Firstly, Bhutan is blessed with a rich and pristine natural heritage, naturally endowed and consciously maintained under the far-sighted leadership of our Kings, and nurtured with the deep rooted cultural and religious reverence for all life and nature. This respect, be it in the worship of forest spirits and sacred mountains, to the more physical reverence for top predators such as the tiger, has ensured a healthy harmonious co-existence from our ancestors’ subsistence days to modern times.
Secondly, Bhutan is recognized globally for its conservation leadership. Long before the modern environmental movement began elsewhere in the world, we were observing basic environmental stewardship under the fundamental premise of the inter-dependence of all life in nature. Today, we share our home with some of the most important species of fauna and flora in Asia, and more than half of the country is protected as their habitat. To conserve these rich spaces lost forever elsewhere in the world, our Constitution decrees at least 60 percent of the country to be covered in forests in perpetuity.
Third, the preservation of our nature, whose inheritance by future generations is the dream and commitment of our political leadership, is not without challenges. We are still a poor country, land-locked between the global giants of India and China, with porous borders on both sides. We have been fighting an uphill battle to not only prevent cross-border-driven pillage and looting of our valuable natural resources, be they in the form of timber or tigers, but to also help our own people avoid succumbing to the lures of easy, illegal wealth.
As one of the oldest government organizations, if not the oldest formal department, the Forest Department has over the decades faithfully, diligently and successfully provided sound and effective custodianship of our natural heritage. Today, the green forests and flowing rivers and abundant wildlife, encompassed within the biological diversity of this gem of the Himalaya, owes its pristine condition to the tireless and often under-appreciated foresters, some of whom make the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
As Bhutan evolves and changes with the times, and our people move from subsistence farms and simple lives to urban lifestyles and socio-economic demands swept in by globalization, our foresters will face the greatest professional challenges in understanding, detecting and fighting the threats to their wards. The ability of our colleagues to confront the onslaught of organized crime, advanced by high technology and financial liquidity, has been and will be severely tested time and again. The fight to protect our environment, and important flagship species like the tiger and snow leopard and elephant, will no longer be between poor, illiterate poachers and foresters in the borderlands, although that will still persist, but it will be against the many sophisticated faces of organised crime against whom the most effective protection can only be through the rule of law.
Therefore, in this day and age, our friends and colleagues in the Department of Forests and Park Services require the most effective tools and support the country can mobilize, for them to fulfill the immense mandate entrusted by society and law. In the absence of lawyers and IT specialists and crime sleuths in our own organisation, we have to reach throughout the government and society to seek the help of the judiciary, the police, Customs and immigration, and so on, to ensure that nothing is left unchecked to not only fight but also deter the threats to conservation. Not only is such institutional collaboration desirable for all forms of law enforcement, it is also the most efficient and productive mode of delivery of vital services.
For over two years now, we in Bhutan have had the privilege to be assisted in our fight against wildlife crime by two eminent organizations in this field. To many of you, these organizations and the dedicated, pioneering professionals that represent them here today, require no introduction. The International Fund for Animal Welfare based in Boston in the United States, commands huge global respect for its humane care of animals, both wild and tame, and it is our good fortune to benefit from their vast experience and expertise. I am particularly delighted to welcome today Mr. Kelvin Alie from the Fund’s wildlife crime and consumer awareness division, and Dr. Elsayed Mohamed, the head of the Fund’s operations in the Middle East.
As Bhutan’s closest friend and partner in many areas, India continues to provide some of the most valuable and generous forms of assistance. I am most pleased to point out that not only have our foresters received their education and professional development in India, but our most critical initiative, the fight against wildlife crime, is now being assisted by one of the pioneering private initiatives in this field, the Wildlife Trust of India. As an action-oriented, results-driven conservation group staffed by some of India’s most prominent conservationists, WTI is one of our most effective partners. The wide respect and admiration due to its chief executive, Mr. Vivek Menon, has been strongly earned over a lifetime of protecting wildlife in his own country, usually at the forefront of the battles. Today, we are grateful that an extremely busy person like Mr. Menon can so generously share his time with our colleagues. Many of the techniques and approaches to fighting wildlife crime were pioneered by Vivek and his colleagues, and we deeply appreciate his commitment to training our people in Bhutan.
This year, for the first time, we are very pleased to welcome the presence of a senior official from INTERPOL. Not only is it a reflection of the importance of global attention to wildlife crime-related activities in our region, but it is also a warning to aspiring criminals that the best law enforcers in the world manifest through INTERPOL are here, and watching.
In preparing for this meeting, I was duly briefed by my colleagues. What I was most impressed by in this partnership were the substantive achievements within a short time. Here, I would like to briefly recap some of the major contributions by IFAW and WTI in Bhutan:
? Since 2011, over 470 frontline staff have been trained and 570 people equipped in nine protected areas and three territorial divisions. Every year, refresher trainings are being held for these staff. This is one of the most important components in the partnership, to train and build the capacity of frontline conservation staff;
? The first training on preventing wildlife trade was held in July 2011, when 35 enforcement officials were trained including foresters, park staff, Army and Police officers, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and Bhutan Customs. This week, 47 of you will receive similar but more advanced training;
? 21 key forest staff were trained in rescue and rehabilitation and conflict animal management, in July 2011; and
? Some support was provided for tiger conservation awareness particularly the 29 July of every year being celebrated as Global Tiger Day commencing 2010, anti-poaching, rescue and rehab training for forestry officials and vets.
I can only express my deep appreciation for the valuable contributions these organisations have rendered. It is truly commendable, and fittingly reflects their commitment and support for wildlife conservation in our part of the world.
I will conclude my remarks here, by once again thanking our friends at IFAW, WTI and INTERPOL for imparting your knowledge and skills to our colleagues here today. I know that long after we are all gone, your contributions this week will be one of the most enduring foundations in our endeavors to conserve the natural heritage of Bhutan.
Thank you, and Tashi Delek.”
Read more about the workshop here.