Uninterrupted illegal wildlife trade sparks urgent call for stronger action in Lower Mekong
The Lower Mekong region, which includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, has long been recognized as a hotbed for illegal wildlife trade. Despite decades of scrutiny, enforcement and political intervention, open, illegal and unregulated wildlife markets continue to function, as evidenced by survey results in five of the Lower Mekong countries.
Nearly 78,000 parts and derivatives of illegal wildlife were found for sale at more than 1,000 outlets in some cities across the five countries in 2019 and 2020.
Parts and derivatives of a wide range of species have been found during surveys, including bears, big cats, helmeted hornbills, pangolins, rhinos and serows, but elephant ivory was The most important. It has also been found that several types of products originate from individual species. For example, pangolin scales have been found raw and ground for medicinal purposes, as well as carved into jewelry or sold as talismans.
The variety and prevalence of illegal wildlife trade in several locations has underscored that the circumstances facilitating illegal trade have not only remained, but in some cases have proliferated. “
Agkillah Maniam of TRAFFIC.
Among these are the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) established in many Lower Mekong countries to encourage increased trade and investment, jobs and overall socio-economic improvement of countries.
These SEZs have grown over the years and have become hot spots for the illegal wildlife trade. These include Boten and Bokeo in Lao PDR, and Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
The video highlights some efforts to address the challenges in the region, including building the capacity of law enforcement officers in investigating wildlife crime, providing tools to strengthen identification and detecting illegally traded wildlife in markets and responding to demand for wildlife parts and derivatives. However, as the trade continues and even flourishes, he calls for further investigation of illegal wildlife trade and a stronger and more specific response to the complex issues in this area.
Covid-19 travel restrictions have had an impact on business activity, with surveys in late 2020 showing products like ivory still available, but in smaller volumes.
In December 2020, Vietnamese authorities seized 93 kg of African rhino horns from a warehouse near the Ho Chi Minh City International Airport, reinforcing the fact that the pandemic has not been a deterrent against wildlife crime and raises questions about stocks and future supply to the market.
“It would be naive to think that the pandemic alone will curb wildlife crime in the long term. Thus, surveillance and investigations must continue. Verification on the ground is essential to accurately understand how traffickers, traders and consumers are reacting and adapting to changes, ”said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director of TRAFFIC in South East Asia.
“There is also a need to strengthen the collaboration and public engagement of all governments in the region. The problem of illegal wildlife trade here is not something that countries can solve on their own, ”Krishnasamy said.
The polls and video are the latest results of 30 years of TRAFFIC research and investigation into the markets in this region. A series of more detailed analyzes on the ivory trade and trade in specific locations in the Lower Mekong will follow in the coming months.