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Golden Triangle is Under Spotlight as illegal Wildlife Trade Hub

Wildlife parts seized by Thai Authorities in the Golden Triangle region

CHIANG RAI – The World Wildlife Fund says the Golden Triangle – a 367,000-square mile area where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet – has become a “breeding ground for illegal wildlife trade”.

Tigers, elephants, bears and pangolins are four of the most widely traded species in the Golden Triangle—the border area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar connect—according to a new report.

The report is entitled “Top 10 Most Wanted: Endangered Species in the Markets of the Golden Triangle” and the full version can be read or downloaded here, in PDF format. It was produced jointly by two non-governmental organisations, WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

It said tourists from China and Vietnam travelling to areas such as Mong La and Tachilek in Myanmar, a border town opposite Chiang Rai, and border areas such as Boten and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos, buy or consume products made from these endangered species.

Rhinos, serow, Helmeted Hornbill, Gaur, leopards and turtles round out the list of threatened species that are openly sold in a region that is Ground Zero in the illegal wildlife trade.

“Illegal, unregulated, and unsustainable trade is driving wild populations of hundreds of species into endangerment, not only in the Greater Mekong but around the world,” said Chrisgel Cruz, Technical Advisor on Wildlife Trade for WWF-Greater Mekong. “Border areas like the Golden Triangle are where this trade thrives.”

Many of Asia’s poached and farmed Tigers pass through the Golden Triangle, where they end up in tiger wine, on dinner tables, in dubious medicines or as luxury items and jewellery.

The trade in live elephants, elephant skin, combined with continuing demand for ivory, is threatening elephant populations from Asia to Africa. Bear farms are rampant across the region, where both Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears—mostly captured in the wild—are kept in cages while their bile is collected for traditional medicine and folk remedies.

African rhinos are being poached at the rate of three per day to feed the demand for their horns in places such as Viet Nam, where it is mostly consumed as a symbol of wealth. Pangolins are in high demand in China and Vietnam for their scales.

The Helmeted Hornbill has a solid bill casque that is carved as an ivory substitute. Demand from China has led to a dramatic decline in populations, especially in Indonesia.

The goat-like serow is highly prized for its meat and body parts, which are used in traditional medicine in Laos. Leopards are now poached for their skin and skulls, which are found in high numbers in the markets of the Golden Triangle. Turtles are widely sold, both alive and as decorative objects.  Finally, the world’s largest species of cattle, the gaur, is declining globally owing to demand for its impressive horns and habitat loss.

TRAFFIC is working with WWF and local NGO partners, governments, the private sector and enforcement authorities to address illegal wildlife markets in the Golden Triangle and beyond, and is encouraging increasing enforcement and penalties for illegal wildlife crime, as well as sharing data so authorities know where the trade is concentrated.

“TRAFFIC’s expertise in wildlife trade issues will underpin our collaboration with WWF as we mount a comprehensive effort to address trans-boundary wildlife trafficking in this critically important region,” said James Compton, Senior Programme Director with TRAFFIC.

WWF is also providing support to the first line of defence against illegal wildlife trade—the rangers who put their lives on the line trying to protect endangered species from poachers. Critical needs include basic equipment, training and high-tech equipment to match the sophistication of the organized criminal gangs behind the trade.

Bangkok Post Reporter Anchalee Kongrut – So you might ask: What we should do?

First, we must change our beliefs about buying such products. I strongly believe many people learn to consume products made from wildlife animals through family practices, or from friends out of old beliefs that they benefit their health or to boost their social status.

So we can start by making sure our education system teaches students about science as well as imbues conservation awareness, so they will not fall prey to these myths and unproven medical beliefs.

But the truth is the trade of tigers, elephants and bears in the Golden Triangle goes beyond culture and morals. This illicit trade involves power, money and the underworld. According to this report, the profits from illicit wildlife trafficking are staggeringly high. For example, the ivory and pangolin trade in the Mong La market amounts to US$4 million (132 million baht) and wildlife is the fourth-most lucrative illegal business globally.

At this point, I am afraid the problem will get out of hand if governments in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand continue to drag their feet or do nothing. Wildlife traffickers have also found the perfect market conditions.

The Golden Triangle’s mountainous areas provide hiding places and ideal routes to escape law enforcement. And failing to crack down such trade means more wildlife species will be hunted and face extinction sooner rather than later.

The circumstances seem to greatly benefit drug producers and smugglers. Apart of making or selling ya ba, they may move into new businesses as a sideline, such as selling tiger carcasses or ivory to tourists — giving them another chance to make a lot of easy, dirty and bloody money!

By Anchalee Kongrut

Source: Bangkok Post, WWF, Traffic

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