On February 2nd – 6th 2015, the first ever Zero Poaching Symposium was held in Katmandu, Nepal. The conference brought together delegates from 13 countries across Asia as well as experts from local and international NGO’s and partners. The aim was to share best practice knowledge from different sectors in the effort to combat the escalating illegal wildlife trade. The four day event resulted in representatives from 13 Asian countries committing to immediate action to stamp out poaching.
The Government of Nepal was a perfect host for the event, being the first country in the world to achieve zero poaching. The ceremony was opened by the Honourable Mahesh Acharya, Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation in Nepal, who called for region-wide action, emphasising that the choice is zero poaching or zero wildlife. Other key speakers from Nepal welcomed the attendees and a short, powerful film on how the country achieved zero poaching was debuted.
The symposium was structured around the six pillars of zero poaching; assessment, technology, capacity, community, prosecution and cooperation. Professionals made presentations about their area of expertise, followed by Q&A and discussion periods. This allowed country delegates and other participants to fully explore each pillar and understand the current efforts being made globally in each.
The first day launched with presentations on the Asian Poaching Crisis and the Need for Transformational Action. Experts emphasised that although people often think of elephants and rhinos in Africa when they hear the word ‘poaching’, wildlife in Asia is far more at risk. The escalating poaching crisis in Asia threatens to destroy the delicate balance of the eco-system; causing severe repercussions for local livelihoods, international exports, tourism and the country’s economy as natural resources are wiped out. This lead on to the next theme; Assessments of Site-based Enforcement, which looked at the various tools that are being used to evaluate the effectiveness of protected areas and law enforcement.
The second day followed with presentations on Technology for Site-based Enforcement, bringing together top experts from Asia and Africa. Experts highlighted best practices and latest advances in technology, from SMART software to thermal cameras to wildlife forensics. Institutional Capacity Building is crucial for raising the profile and professionalising the training of rangers – the frontline staff in the battle against poaching. Representatives from different NGO’s described their area of focus, from developing standardised training manuals to assisting families of rangers killed in the line of duty. The final topic of the afternoon was Strengthening Prosecution which explored how to close the current gaps in legislation.
Day three focused on the importance of working together, from engaging communities to cooperation in government at a regional level. There was a clear, inspiring message that together we are stronger and together we can achieve zero poaching. The “Tiger Summit” in 2010, where the Tx2 goal was launched, was strongly acknowledged as a critical year as it laid the foundations for high-level political support that eventually led to Zero Poaching. Presentations on Collaboration, Communities and Other Partners kickstarted the day. Speakers highlighted how crucial it is to engage local communities with zero poaching as they can provide intelligence on poaching activities in the area. Sessions on National and Regional Cooperation in the afternoon underscored the importance of cooperation and a united approach at borders, as wildlife crime is largely a hidden, transnational trade.
The final day of the symposium saw the following five recommendations adopted:
- Swift and decisive action to elevate the importance and effectiveness of anti-poaching initiatives and cooperation among all relevant ministries, departments and agencies within their borders, while at the same time strengthening international cooperation in the face of this serious criminal activity.
- Adoption of the Poaching Tool Kit and assessment of current anti-poaching responses to determine improvements and close serious gaps.
- Increase and improve collaboration as a successful anti-poaching response is critically dependant on effectively engaging a diverse number of shareholders
- Improve standards, training and support for rangers, other frontline staff and prosecutors.
- Commit to identifying a Zero Poaching national contact point to effectively coordinate transboundary efforts to stop poaching.
Overall, it was envisioned that the Zero Poaching Symposium would not only be a collection of best practice knowledge, but that it would represent the moment from which momentum builds, to bring IGO and NGO support tools and programs in better alignment with the needs and requests of those countries seeking to implement them.
The event attracted both local and international media interest, from the Katmandu Post to AFP, Al Jazeera, BBC and The Hindustan Times. Unexpected social media support was received from celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, who retweeted #zeropoaching to his 6.9 million followers. Interviews and news videos were conducted with WWF staff. Mike Baltzer, Leader of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative was interviewed by BBC World Service. Barney Long, Director of WWF US Species Conservation and Diwakar Chapagain, Deputy Director of WWF Nepal Wildlife Trade Monitoring were both part of an Al Jazeera news feature.