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Myanmar border markets are deadly trade gateway for tigers

High profit margins, corrupt authorities and little fear of recrimination allows wildlife trafficking to flourish

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© Adam Oswell/TRAFFIC
Pictured here is a tiger head for sale at one of the many retail outlets for tiger products in Mong La, Special Region 4, Shan State, Myanmar.

Rare and endangered Asian big cats are sold in black markets along Myanmar, Thailand and China’s shared borders, facilitating a deadly illicit trade in tigers and other endangered species says TRAFFIC and WWF’s joint report “The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand.”

The report found that whole animals and body parts and products made from them, 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. Across nearly a decade, hundreds of tiger and leopard parts representing over 400 individual animals, were observed in trade in Myanmar and Thailand. Among them were live big cats including a rare Asiatic lion and endangered 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,” noted TRAFFIC North America’s Director, Crawford Allan. “Wildlife laws in Myanmar and Thailand clearly prohibit trafficking in tigers and other big cats. These areas need enforcement crack downs to clean up this criminal mess and bring the full weight of the law to bear upon traffickers.”

Learn More

View a 12 minute documentary for a closer look at the illegal wildlife trade in Asian big cats in Myanmar

Read the full report “The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand”

Learn more about TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network

Discover WWF’s work in the Greater Mekong

While local communities are sometimes involved, they are rarely major drivers of the illegal activities. Provincial markets and retail outlets at 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 consume exotic wildlife.

What does this mean for WWF?

The report comes as tiger range state governments, including representatives from Myanmar, China, and Thailand, will meet next week in St. Petersburg, Russia for the International Tiger Conservation Forum hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“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 centre in the negotiations,” said Dr. Barney Long of WWF’s tiger conservation program. “A critical part of saving wild tigers must be to shut down the illegal trade in tiger parts.”

Tiger populations in the Greater Mekong—an area that includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam—have plummeted from an estimated 1,200 during the last Year of the Tiger in 1998 to about 350 today.