Tag Archives: China trade endangered species

The Most Trafficked Animal in the World: pangolin

Pangolin defending itself against lions. image from wikipedia

Pangolins are a smuggler’s dream. For defence, and when asleep, they roll themselves up into spheres, scales on the outside, to thwart any predator. That makes them easy to handle and pack. And handled and packed they have been, in enormous numbers. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a worldwide wildlife-preservation organisation, reckons that more than 1m pangolins were traded illegally from their African and Asian homelands over the decade to 2014. That may be a conservative estimate. A paper published in 2017 in Conservation Letters calculates the number of pangolins hunted in central Africa alone as between 400,000 and 2.7m a year. Based on statistics such as these it seems likely that pangolins, of which there are eight species, four African and four Asian, are the most trafficked type of animal in the world.

Some are consumed locally. That is not necessarily illegal, for laws vary from place to place. International trade, though, is a different matter. Early in 2017 CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, listed all eight pangolins as part of what is known as Appendix 1. This means signatories to the convention (which most countries are) cannot permit them to be imported or exported.

Most of those that are, nevertheless, exported illegally from their homelands end up in China and Vietnam. In these countries pangolins’ meat is a treat and their scales are used in folk medicine, even though those scales are made of keratin, the same substance as hair and fingernails, and thus have no medicinal value. Pangolin scales fetch as much as $750 a kilogram in China. A 12-tonne stash of them, the world’s biggest seizure, was found last summer by the authorities in Shenzhen….

Cracking down on poachers and traders is difficult, particularly in poor places…Part of the blame lies with ignorance. Awareness of pangolins is patchy. They are nocturnal and shy, and thus rarely feature on tourists’ tick-lists. That makes them a low priority, even to game-management authorities who know they are there. …The Hywood Foundation’s initiative is part of a larger effort in Uganda, sponsored by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the government’s conservation agency. Now that pangolins are on the UWA’s radar, it has stepped up intelligence and investigative work on poachers and traffickers…At the consumption end of the trafficking routes, too, things are starting to happen…. In theory, eating pangolin meat (along with that of many other wild species) is already illegal in China—not for conservation reasons, but as a reaction to the outbreak of SARS, a fatal respiratory disease…Persuading people to stop using the animals’ scales may be harder.

Excerpts from  Conserving Pagolins: A Problem of Scale, Economist, Feb 3, 2018

For Sale Elephant Skin 4 dollars per square inch

“Elephant’s skin can cure skin diseases like eczema,” said one shop owner, who requested anonymity, alongside a counter brimming with porcupine quills and snake skins. “You burn pieces of skin by putting them in a clay pot. Then you get the ash and mix it with coconut oil to apply on the eczema.”  He broke off to talk to a potential buyer, who balked at the price tag of 5,000 kyat (US$3.65) per square inch (6.5 square centimetres) of elephant skin.

Elephant poaching in Myanmar has jumped tenfold in recent years, the government said this week, driven by growing demand for ivory, hide and body parts.Increasingly carcasses are being found stripped of their skin, the hide used for traditional medicine or reportedly turned into beads for jewellery. Some of it is sold in local markets but the vast majority goes to feed neighbouring China’s inexhaustible taste for exotic animals.  Myanmar’s wild elephant population is thought to have almost halved over the past decade to around 2,000-3,000. The animals are killed or smuggled alive to be used in the tourist industry in neighbouring Thailand.

“”Elephants are one of dozens of endangered species being trafficked through Myanmar, which has become a key hub in the US$20 billion a year global wildlife trade.  Watchdog TRAFFIC claims the country has “the largest unregulated open markets for tiger parts” in Southeast Asia, which experts say also sell everything from African rhino horn and clouded leopard skins to pangolins.  Much of the trade runs through the country’s lawless eastern periphery, controlled by a sophisticated network of criminals who are thought to be armed and funded by powerful “kingpins” in China.  It is lucrative business: in Mong La, on Myanmar’s eastern border, sales of ivory alone are thought to rake in tens of millions of dollars a year.

Excerpts from Skin care fad threatens Myanmar’s endangered elephants as demand from China drives trade in animal products, South China Morning Post, Jan. 21, 2016

 

Exotic Pets and other Illegal Markets

Animal Markets. Caged Nycticebus. image from wikipedia

It’s easy to catch grey parrots, say researchers from Birdlife, a global grouping of conservation groups. A team of hunters will use decoys or go to the birds’ water and mineral licks in the forests where flocks gather. They then throw nets over them and take dozens at a time.

Once caught they will be smuggled over borders, stuffed in tiny cages and flown illegally to Europe, South Africa, the Middle East and China, where they may fetch up to £1,000 each. All this makes the African grey probably the most highly traded bird in the world, causing their numbers to plummet… Some conservationists estimate only 1% of their historical numbers remain…

“Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past 10 years,” the IUCN’s director-general, Inger Andersen, will say. “Their plight is truly alarming. Poaching has been the main driver of the decline, while habitat loss poses an increasingly serious, long-term threat to the species.”..

Laos has pledged to phase out its controversial tiger farms, which supply neighbouring China with bones and other parts for traditional medicine. But international animal trade inspectors will report in Johannesburg that rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and many other wildlife specimens are being regularly smuggled through the country both to China and other south-east Asian countries. “Laos is being targeted by organised crime groups as a transit point,” says wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

South Africa.. has lost nearly 6,000 rhinos to poachers since 2007, including more than 700 this year. Vietnam needs to crack down on its rampant illegal rhino horn trade and China has been identified as the world’s primary destination for precious woods…..The street value of ivory is now more than £1,500 a kilogram in Beijing, and rhino horn can sell for £50,000 per kilo – far more than the price of gold or platinum – on the Chinese black market. Meanwhile rosewood can sell for many thousands of pounds a cubic metre.

Excerpt from The grey parrot and the race against Africa’s wildlife extinction, Guardian, Sept. 24, 2016

Industrial-Scale Hunting and the Verbal Bravado

Killing the Cecil lion, Zimbabwe

Starting September 25, 2016,  thousands of conservationists and top government officials will be thrashing out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species.A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)….

[T]he plight of Africa’s elephants, targeted for their tusks, generated fierce debate as the talks kicked off.Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia castigated Western-based animal charities, saying they “dictated” on how African resources should be managed.”Please leave us alone, don’t just come and dictate what we should be doing,” Zambian Tourism Minister Stephen Mwansa said.Fortune Charumbira, head of Zimbabwe’s traditional chiefs, blasted “elitist NGOs who are coming from countries where there are no animals”, describing them as “domineering”.

A coalition of 29 African countries is pressing for a total halt to the ivory trade to curb poaching of elephants, but other delegates believe it would only fuel illegal trading…CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals….

CITES’ secretary general John Scanlon… warned illegal wildlife trafficking was “occurring on an industrial scale, driven by transnational organised criminal groups”.

African countries lash out at Western charities at international wildlife conservation meeting, ABC News, Sept. 24, 2016

The Killing Spree at the Golden Triangle

 

Lthe golden triangle

Laos’s biggest breeding facility, near Thakhek, reportedly holds around 400 tigers. Many are bred solely for their parts. The skins are prized as decorations. Farmed-tiger parts mostly move to China through the unruly Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos converge. The region is a hotspot for trade in protected species: the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO based in UK  visited the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos, popular with Chinese tourists. [It] found tiger-bone wine, bear-bile pills, pangolin scales and carvings from the beaks of helmeted hornbills openly on sale. Outside the God of Fortune restaurant was a caged bear-cub that could be killed and cooked to order.

Laos also offers a link to the most lucrative of all illegal wildlife enterprises: the trade in rhinoceros horn, which the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated six years ago was worth $8m a year. Since then the number of rhinos slaughtered annually by poachers in Africa has more than tripled (the poaching of Asia’s depleted stock of rhinos is modest). Poachers are sometimes caught; those higher up the chain rarely are. The only high-level trafficker in jail is a Thai, Chumlong Lemtongthai, who is serving a 13-year sentence in South Africa. He was charged in 2011 with bringing Thai prostitutes to South Africa so they could claim they had shot rhinos on legal hunts and were thus entitled under South African law to export horns as trophies. It was the most bizarre of several methods used to get hold of a substance that can fetch up to $70,000 a kilo—almost twice the price of gold.

Mr Chumlong has been linked to a man who has been described as the Pablo Escobar of wildlife-trafficking, Vixay Keosavang, a former soldier in the Lao People’s Army who operates from a walled compound far off the beaten track in the central province of Bolikhamxay. In 2013 the American government offered $1m for information that would help dismantle the network it believes that Mr Vixay heads, which it suspects of trading wild-animal parts across several countries. Mr Vixay has denied wrongdoing.

Some experts believe that the surge in rhino-poaching, which has cut the world’s population by a fifth since 2008, has been driven by a surge in demand in Vietnam. There, rhino-horn shavings are a supposed cure for hangovers; entire horns are given as gifts and displayed as ornaments. Others believe that much of the rhino-horn taken to Vietnam ends up in China.

As their country opened up in recent decades, “some enterprising Vietnamese citizens got residential status in South Africa and very quietly began trading,” says Tom Milliken of Traffic, an NGO. In at least two cases, professional South African hunters have been caught shooting rhino for Vietnamese clients and, in two others, Vietnamese nationals have been arrested trying to smuggle rhino-horns out of South Africa by air. Hunts have been arranged for citizens of the Czech Republic, which has had a large Vietnamese community since the cold war. Since that ruse was discovered, Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians have been enlisted as bogus trophy-hunters. “Some Vietnamese residents have bought their own game ranches, so they are now able to buy rhinos at auction and organise sports hunts,” says Mr Milliken.

The international nature of the trade poses big problems for law-enforcement. Documents that would prove decisive in a prosecution for rhino-horn trafficking can sit in a South African office for months awaiting translation, says Mr Milliken; the situation is no better for other animal parts. “None of what we do for drugs do we do for wildlife trafficking,” an international official involved in the fight against organised crime laments. “Extraditions are rare. There are no controlled deliveries. Sophisticated investigative techniques are seldom deployed. We’re not doing any of the things we could be doing to stop it.”

Excerpts from The Trade in Wild Animals: Last Chance to See?, Economist, Apr. 18, 2016, at 49