JAKARTA - Southeast Asian nations plan to set up task forces to help fight the illegal animal trade in a region that is home to many endangered species, an Indonesian forestry official said on Wednesday.
Conservation groups welcomed the plan, but said the problem appeared to be getting worse and urgent action was needed.
Police, customs and forestry officials from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are meeting in the Indonesian city of Bogor south of Jakarta to discuss the issue.
"There are ongoing talks about joint investigation efforts, information-sharing mechanisms and the possible use of facilities in certain countries for investigation and enforcement," Agus Joko, an official at the Indonesian foreign ministry, said by telephone.
The meeting was expected to finalise plans to set up inter-agency crime task forces that would eventually be given enforcement powers, he said.
"We are working towards joint enforcement but I think we are still a couple years away from that."
Authorities in the region, which is home to some of the last untouched rainforests in the world, have uncovered cases of smuggled animals ranging from endangered orangutans to pangolins and cockatoos.
Orangutans have a price tag of US$50,000 and mostly end up in the homes of collectors in countries where law enforcement in weak such as Cambodia or the Philippines, according to conservationist Hardi Baktiantoro.
The Middle East is currently the top destination for illegal wildlife trade as rich people like to flaunt their wealth and power by keeping endangered animals as pets.
Asep Purnama of Indonesian conservation group ProFauna said that based on monitoring at entry points for animal smugglers in places such as Sumatra and Bali the problem was getting worse.
"The quantity of illegal species traded has gone up, as well the variety of species traded," Purnama said, adding that establishing wildlife crime task forces could help overcome squabbles between different agencies working on the issue.
Another conservation official said he thought the scale of the problem was greatly underestimated.
"Any numbers would only show the tip of the iceberg," Khairul Saleh of WWF Indonesia said.
Story Date: 24/5/2007