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March 3rd 1973 marks a special day as the international community committed itself to work together to make sure that wild animals and plants are not threatened in their survival because of wildlife trade. On this day the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed. The Lao PDR was welcomed as a member to CITES in 2004. Today, March 3rd is known as World Wildlife Day as declared by the United Nations 5 years ago. This day is the biggest event of the year for wildlife and this year it is dedicated to 'Big Cats: predators under threat'.
We look at the big cats as the royalty of the animal kingdom. All over the world young and old are fascinated with lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and leopards. These predators, however, are facing a big threat: humankind. Because of a combination of poaching and loss of natural habitat, the world is losing the big cats at an unprecedented rate. Tigers for example are found in only 4% of what used to be their historical range. One of these stunning animals in a precarious state is the Indochinese tiger. Data from 2011 puts their number at only 350 in the Greater Mekong area. In Lao PDR it is estimated that there are less than 20 Indochinese tigers still living in the wild.
As it is the case for other big cats, the Indochinese tigers are threatened by the reduction and fragmentation of the natural habitat from themselves and their prey because of development projects such as road construction. Moreover, the extinction of the species has a direct link with international criminal activities. Illegal wildlife trade is driven by a demand for tiger parts and poaching as a consequence still at high levels in Laos and the entire region. Tiger farming however is not the solution, quite the contrary. This is why the plan by the Government of Lao PDR to phase out tiger farm operations was widely applauded at the meeting of the CITES Standing Office in 2016. Moreover, the increased penalties for wildlife trafficking in the new Penal Code that will be promulgated shortly, send an important message.
Indeed, it is the CITES framework that allows for cooperation among those involved in Lao PDR in the conservation of the Indochinese tiger and the country's wildlife in general. The CITES Recommendations are key in this regard and their implementation by June 2018 an important deadline. Development partners, including the European Union, stand by to support the Government's efforts to address the CITES Recommendations. Moreover, we are also happy with the opportunity to address these issues at the Roundtable Meeting Process. Everyone there is committed to strong anti-money laundering policies which inevitably link with wildlife trafficking. In addition, we hope that our combined efforts to combat illegal logging will prove to help restore the habitat of the Indochinese tiger.
The protection of our globe's wildlife is a universal responsibility captured in Sustainable Development Goal 15 in which we, among others, commit to halt the loss in biodiversity. It is thus crucial to end poaching, stop trafficking of endangered species and do more to address both supply and demand of illegal wildlife products. This is why we so strongly support CITES and the commitments of the Lao PDR therein. Wildlife trafficking is obviously not a Lao problem; it is a transnational issue which we must address in a coordinated way. The future of the big cats stands as an example of the future of our planet and that it why it is essential that we use all means available to protect them. This is our shared responsibility on this World Wildlife Day.
Signed by: The European Union Delegation to the Lao PDR and the Embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, Luxemburg and France to the Lao PDR.