In pulverising and incinerating a huge load of smuggled elephant ivory, Singapore signalled that such trade is not tolerated here. Although the country is neither the origin nor the final destination of wildlife contraband, the action taken by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority emphasises that it will not allow Singapore to be a conduit for smuggling endangered species and their parts. While the destruction of 7.9 tonnes of seized ivory, whose estimated market value was $13 million, represents just a small part of the global efforts to eradicate a cruel and lucrative trade, every step counts.
As the region is both producer and consumer, Asean has an important role to play in curbing a surge in environmental crime. Thankfully, the organisation has put trafficking of wildlife and timber on its list of transnational crimes regarded as threats and launched a 500-page legal toolkit on fighting environmental crime.
However, enforcement lags far behind such good intentions in South-east Asia, where environmental crime accounts for 25 per cent of the total value of criminal activity. Globally, according to United Nations estimates, environmental crime is worth up to US$213 billion (S$288 billion) a year and covers a range of activities - illegal fishing and the killing of rhinoceroses and elephants in Africa, timber theft in Laos and Myanmar, and the illegal export and dumping of hazardous waste. So bad is the situation that, in 2013, the US State Department declared that wildlife trafficking had evolved from a conservation issue to an "acute security threat".
That is how trafficking should be treated and fought. The recent discovery of scores of dead tiger cubs at the Tiger Temple in Thailand brought to the surface the presence of tourist attractions that could be fronts for animal trafficking.
One problem is endemic corruption in the region on which ruthless traffickers feed. Singapore's no- nonsense attitude to corruption helps to enhance the ability to deal with a scourge that is contributing to environmental carnage, the destruction of ecosystems and the possible extinction of entire species. One statistic should help to put the threat in perspective: Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed illegally for their ivory across the African continent - an average of 96 elephants a day, or one every 15 minutes. This has to stop.
Apart from law enforcement, Asian nations should do more to disabuse consumers of the notion that exotic animal parts are potent. In fact, "rhinoceros horn as medication has no more curative power than chewing (one's) own nails", as a biotech industry observer noted. Yet, a poll last year showed that half of Guangzhou's residents had eaten wildlife, like snake blood, bear testicles and tiger paws. Wiping out the appetite for endangered animals is the first step to saving them.