WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2010 – Black markets along Myanmar, Thailand and China’s shared borders play a crucial role in facilitating the deadly illicit trade in tigers and other endangered species, according to a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC report in the lead up to the Global Tiger Forum taking place next week in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The report, The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand, documents black market sales of large wild felines. Hundreds of tiger and leopard parts, representing over 400 individual animals, were observed during nearly a decade of investigations in Myanmar and Thailand. Live big cats, including endangered tigers and a rare Asiatic lion were also observed in trade.
The report is accompanied by a short documentary, Closing a Deadly Gateway, which illustrates the illegal trade described in the report. The film features interviews with poachers as well as alarming footage of butchered tigers.
“With as few as 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, the ongoing large-scale trafficking documented in this report is having a disastrous impact on tigers and other big cats. Lack of good governance goes hand in hand with the corruption that is allowing this illegal trade gateway to act like floodgates, spilling out the lifeblood of the forest,” said Crawford Allan, director TRAFFIC North America. “Wildlife laws in Myanmar and Thailand clearly prohibit trafficking in tigers and other big cats. These areas need enforcement crackdowns to clean up this criminal mess and bring the full weight of the law to bear upon traffickers.”
Provincial markets and retail outlets located in the Myanmar towns of Mong La, near the China border, and Tachilek, on the Thai border, were found to play a pivotal role in the large scale distribution of big cat parts including whole skins, bones, paws, penises, and teeth. The products are transported by road and sea into China and Thailand, or sold to Chinese nationals who cross the Myanmar border to gamble and to consume exotic wildlife.
The report comes as tiger range state governments, including representatives from Myanmar, China, and Thailand, are expected to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia for a Forum hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
“A critical part of saving wild tigers must be to shut down the illegal trade in tiger parts,” said Dr. Barney Long, WWF’s tiger conservation program manager. “With all the tiger range countries convening now in Russia for a groundbreaking summit on the future of the tiger, illegal trade such as this must stay front and center in the negotiations.”
Findings point to a flourishing illegal trade in tigers and other wildlife through Myanmar that thrives despite national and international laws. The majority of this trade occurs in non-government controlled areas between northern Myanmar and southern China. The fact that these areas maintain governments independent of Myanmar’s capital poses challenges in enforcement coordination.
Tiger populations in the Greater Mekong—an area that includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam—have plummeted from an estimated 1,200 during the last Year of the Tiger in 1998 to about 350 today.
“Alarmingly, the landscape between Myanmar and Thailand holds the greatest hope for tiger population recovery in this region,” said Peter Cutter, Coordinator for WWF Greater Mekong Region’s tiger conservation in Thailand. “But this can only happen if there are unprecedented and coordinated regional efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade.”
The TRAFFIC/WWF report found that whole animals as well as parts and derivatives are sourced within Myanmar and from Lao PDR, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Indonesia; then trafficked across national borders into non-government controlled areas in Myanmar. Wildlife traders in Myanmar’s non-government controlled areas reported that high profit margins, corrupt authorities and little fear of recrimination enable them to trade openly in prohibited wildlife. While local communities are sometimes involved, they are rarely major drivers of the illegal activities.
“The area is struggling with governance, and tigers are easy money for everyone from mafia types to anti-government opposition groups,” said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Director, William Schaedla. “Some of these players should be countered with direct enforcement actions. Others might be receptive to work through regional agreements and international bodies in order to address the problem.”
To download the report visit:
High-res photos from the report visit:
Closing the Deadly Gateway on You Tube (this is the full documentary with narration and subtitles):
Clips from the film Closing the Deadly Gateway (this is the full documentary with no narration or subtitles, natural sound:
B-roll footage of tigers and tiger trade:
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is a joint program of WWF, the global conservation organization and IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. TRAFFIC currently works on wildlife trade issues in over 25 countries and territories, with ongoing research and activities in several others. Visit www.traffic.org to learn more.