CHINA> Regional
Hey, poachers! Leave those beasts alone
By Chen Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-03 08:14

The United States will work more closely with China to curb the illegal trade in wild animals and wildlife products, a senior US official told a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Customs officials at Urumqi airport in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, inspect four bearskins that were seized after being found in a passenger's luggage. [File photo]

Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of the bureau of oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, told China Daily: "No one government or private group can combat this sophisticated criminal activity alone and hope to succeed.

"The United States looks forward to China's joining the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking," she said.

The Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) is also seeking the opportunity to work with China, she said.

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Law enforcement networks have had "success in rescuing and returning live animals to their native countries and have disrupted several groups involved in wildlife trafficking", McMurray said.

The trade in illegal wildlife products rivals drugs and arms trafficking in terms of the money that is made, she said.

"Endangered animals are the new blood diamonds," she said.

"Wildlife trafficking is closely linked to organized crime. Estimates of the value of this illegal trade range from between $10 million and $20 million a year," she said.

Such trafficking has pushed many species to the edge to extinction, and it also poses severe health threats to humans, as diseases like bird flu, SARS, the Ebola virus and tuberculosis, can be carried and transmitetd by animals, McMurray said.

But cooperating to catch the traffickers is only part of the solution, she said. The US and China must also work together to stamp out demand for animal products through better public education.

"Some consumers buy these products when they travel abroad, or source them over the Internet but they think that what they are buying is perfectly legal," McMurray said.

Peter Knights, executive director of Wild Aid, said at Tuesday's press conference that wildlife trafficking is a global problem, but the US and China should take the lead.

"Cooperation between the two countries has to be on a long-term basis, but I have seen their shared interest and they are moving in the right direction," he said.

Under the Chinese law, anyone found guilty of hunting or trading wild animals under national protection can be jailed for up to 10 years.

In recent years, the Ministry of Public Security has pressed police forces across the country to crack down on the hunting, smuggling and sale of protected animals.

Last year, police handled more than 172,000 cases involving the destruction of wildlife and forest resources, and rescued about 1.5 million wild animals from poachers, the ministry said.