Wildlife Inter-Regional Enforcement (WIRE) 2021 & Debriefing of Operation Mekong Dragon III

Address by Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of CITES

30 November 2021


Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is such an honour for me to address you today, an audience of committed law enforcement and justice officials from Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The spirit of collaboration embodied in the Wildlife Inter-Regional Enforcement initiative is precisely what we need to strengthen our collective resolve in the struggle against wildlife crime. This forum provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss your excellent work to enhance cooperation along the entire criminal justice chain. And to further strengthen and expand this collaboration.

Operation Mekong Dragon serves as testimony of what can be achieved when we work together. Recognizing the tireless efforts of officers in the front line is equally important. I am therefore also delighted to celebrate law enforcement excellence through the Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards.


Wildlife trafficking concerns us all and addressing it requires our combined resources and skills. Collaboration and cross-border efforts as exemplified in Operation Mekong Dragon III are among our best tools against transnational criminal networks involved in trafficking wildlife. We must continue to facilitate all forms of cooperation that make it possible for all relevant actors to efficiently work together towards our common goal.

Over the decades, CITES Parties have worked to adapt the Convention in response to the trafficking of CITES-listed species. Governments have shown their resolve at successive meetings of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, where their Decisions have guided the Convention to take an even more significant role in responding to illegal trade and trafficking.

CITES is known for its robust compliance procedures. These aim to ensure that the requirements of the Convention are met by all.

Parties must make clear that trade in violation of CITES rules is defined as illegal under national laws and associated with adequate penalties. They must also ensure that such laws are enforced, that criminals are justly prosecuted and sentenced, and that illegally obtained specimens are confiscated.

The CITES Secretariat is working closely with its partners in the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime – or ICCWC - to support Parties’ responses to wildlife crime.  As you know, ICCWC is a collaboration between the Secretariat, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization. This event indeed represents a progression of the outcomes of the WIRE meeting hosted by UNODC in Nairobi, Kenya in December of 2018, in cooperation with the members of ICCWC.

We must all persevere in our efforts to address wildlife crime. Criminals continue to adapt and exploit every possible avenue to expand their illicit business. This means that enforcement actors and relevant agencies must adapt and refine their strategies to respond to new trends and developments. We very much acknowledge that this is hard work and congratulate you for these efforts.

In recent years, we have seen an increasing focus on the links between wildlife crime and financial crime. Last July, a UN General Assembly Resolution called on Member States to integrate financial crime investigations into wildlife crime investigations. It is encouraging to see that this - and several other key issues - are a major focus of the WIRE. 

Operation Mekong Dragon III mobilized officials from 20 countries and territories in Asia. As we look at their successes and engage in further efforts through this WIRE meeting, I am filled with hope for our continued fight against wildlife crime.

I would like to conclude with a few words on the upcoming ceremony for the Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards. These Awards recognize excellence in the enforcement of national laws to combat transboundary environmental crime. We must continue to highlight the achievements of those who stand on the front lines in the fight to conserve species and ecosystems. Their experiences, their methods, and their leadership are an inspiration and lesson to us all.

We have the drive, the courage, and the tools to tackle the direct attacks on nature by those involved in wildlife crime. Working together, we can reverse the impacts of these illegal activities and contribute to building a world where wildlife can be enjoyed by our and future generations. For the benefit of people and planet.

Thank you.