Despite the best efforts of conservationists, tigers remain on the brink of extinctions in the wild.
Six species survive, spread across 13 countries ...with fewer than a thousand tigers in each species.
While threatened by habitat loss, tigers also face a far more sinister foe -- the gangs of organised criminals who control the illegal internatonal trade in tiger skins and body parts.
Correspondent: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: David Higgins, manager of Interpol's environmental crime program
HIGGINS: We are attempting to engage with the police and customs agencies within the tiger range countries to get them involved in the fight against the criminal activities occurring against the tiger at the moment. At the moment the fight is really occurring with the envionment agencies in each respective country, and to mobilise these huge agencies, such as police and customs is the first step towards combatting this crime.
COCHRANE: And do you think it's getting worse in terms of organised crime and in terms of the threat against tigers?
HIGGINS: Definitely criminals are increasingly exploiting our environmental resources, tigers and other species as well, because law enforcement it's not considered to be a priority at this stage, environmental and natural resource enforcement. It's ever increasingly becoming a major priority for our enforcement resources around the world.
COCHRANE: And what more do you think could be done potentially to increase the capacity of law enforcement or to change the way things are done to help and control this illegal trade?
HIGGINS: What Interpol's looking at is the flow of intelligence across borders to get countries to communicate environmental crime across international borders, to provide it to Interpol for analysis so we can start identifying what the network is, who's involved in the network, so then we can use intelligence-led law enforcement to break down the network and the people that are involved.
COCHRANE: And across the 13 tiger range countries are there any that are sort of struggling to hold their own in terms of this fight?
HIGGINS: Well what we're seeing is that every country is getting involved using the capacity they have at hand at the time. Countries obviously can improve some of their capacity aspects, so what I mean is basically getting more of their mainstream law enforcement involved, and not just fighting it from one agency point of view. So one of the main approaches for us is to get multi-agency or multi-disciplinary teams engaged and we're referring to it as a national environmental security taskforce. So what we see is the security of the environment and the biodiversity is the number one threat that we're facing on this aspect.
COCHRANE: And of course a lot of this illegal trade is made possible by police and customs officials essentially looking the other way or being paid off. Is there an acknowledgement at the conference that corruption is a major issue within Asian police forces?
HIGGINS: Well I think that around the world if we choose to ignore the fact that corruption exists around the world in law enforcement and in governments then we'd be a little naive in our approach. It does exist, it's there, and it's something that we need to all jointly be aware of and acknowledge, and then start working on improving our practices to combat the corruption element, and then we will also become more effective in enforcing our natural resource laws and our biodiversity laws that exist.
COCHRANE: Well let's look at some of the positives now, are there any countries or particular programs that have been quite effective in helping to control this illegal trade?
HIGGINS: The World Bank and other partners have a global tiger initiative. They stimulated and held a conference in St Petersburg, Russia in 2010 that really generated the political will that was required to be able to mobilise all these national agencies to start working together on trying to consider the conservation, just management conservation, but also the role of law enforcement in underpinning the conservational values and the scientific work that's been put into it, because if you don't have effective law enforcement fullstop, then it erodes all the other good work that's being done with regards to science, conservation management, policy and legislation.
COCHRANE: One of the controversial solutions or ideas being put forward in the issue of tiger conservation is the prospect of farming tigers and having that as a potential solution to this demand for body parts for medicinal uses, especially in China. What's your view on the issue of tiger farming?
HIGGINS: Interpol is a law enforcement organisation, so we're not a policy or a management organisation. However consideration needs to be taken into account that if you do go down the tiger farming (path) it will increase demand, it will make it lawful demand, but that may place pressure on the wild species. That needs a lot more research and management analysis to work out whether that's the appropriate path, and that will be determined more so by the environment agencies within the countries and organisations at the international level that will assess this, such as the Cites convention. Interpol is a member with four other international bodies, which is in a consortium called, International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime. So one of our partners would have a bigger stakehold in that aspect.
COCHRANE: And David Higgins just finally with Interpol's involvement could we see a system whereby major traffickers of animal parts, and in particular tiger parts, might be flagged under the Interpol system, red notices and that kind of thing so that they can't operate in a cross-border kind of system?
HIGGINS: Yes that's exactly where we're heading to get environmental criminals actually mainstreamed in normal law enforcement practices, to get notices, such as red notices for the people that are sought around the world, and also other notices that are informing law enforcement agencies of the criminals that are at play in their region so they can keep an eye on them and gather information and intelligence on them.