ILLEGAL ANIMAL TRADE IN ASIA
In 2012 tens of thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinos were butchered to feed the growing appetite of the illegal wildlife trade. This black market, largely centered in East Asia, also devoured tigers, sharks, leopards, turtles, snakes, and hundreds of other animals. Estimated at $19 billion annually, the booming trade has periodically captured global media attention, even receiving a high-profile speech by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Tens of thousands of birds, mostly parrots and cockatoos plucked from the wild, are being imported from the Solomon Islands into Singapore, often touted as one of Asia's least corrupt nations, in violation of CITES, the international convention on wildlife trade. According to TRAFFIC, the international body monitoring wildlife trade, the imported birds are listed as captive-bred, even though it's widely known that the Pacific Ocean islands have virtually no breeding facilities. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, August 15, 2012]
Michael Casey of AP wrote: “To understand the extent of the illicit wildlife trade across Southeast Asia, a good place to start is one of the hundreds of teeming markets that serve as key transit points for illegal animals throughout the region and beyond. Most — like Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market or Jakarta's Pramuka Market — are filled with parrots, lizards and turtles that are sold illegally for the pet trade. Behind closed doors, buyers can find everything from cuddly creatures to black bears, elephants and orangutans that often end up in safari parks or circuses. Farther afield and even more brazen, remote markets along Thailand's borders with Myanmar and Laos specialize in animal parts — furry bear claws, bloody tiger skins, mountain goat horns — destined for Chinese consumers looking for a miraculous cancer cure or special aphrodisiac. [Michael Casey, AP, December 23, 2006]
Corruption and the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Asia
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Squealing tiger cubs stuffed into carry-on bags. Luggage packed with hundreds of squirming tortoises, elephant tusks, even water dragons and American paddlefish. Officials at Thailand's gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years. But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: Officials working-hand-in-hand with traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, August 15, 2012]
It's a murky mix. A 10-fold increase in wildlife law enforcement actions, including seizures, has been reported in the past six years in Southeast Asia. Yet, the trade's Mr. Bigs, masterful in taking advantage of pervasive corruption, appear immune to arrest and continue to orchestrate the decimation of wildlife in Thailand, the region and beyond.
And Southeast Asia's honest cops don't have it easy. "It is very difficult for me. I have to sit among people who are both good and some who are corrupt, says Chanvut Vajrabukka, a retired police general. "If I say, 'You have to go out and arrest that target,' some in the room may well warn them,'" says Chanvut, who now advises ASEAN-WEN, the regional wildlife enforcement network. Several kingpins, says wildlife activist Steven Galster, have recently been confronted by authorities, "but in the end, good uniforms are running into, and often stopped by bad uniforms. It's like a bad Hollywood cop movie.
"Most high-level traffickers remain untouched and continue to replace arrested underlings with new ones," says Galster, who works for the FREELAND Foundation, an anti-trafficking group. Galster, who earlier worked undercover in Asia and elsewhere, heaps praise on the region's dedicated, honest officers because they persevere knowing they could be sidelined for their efforts. In another not uncommon case, a former Thai police officer who tried to crack down on traders at Bangkok's vast Chatuchak Market got a visit from a senior police general who told him to "chill it or get removed."
Biggest Asian Wildlife Traffickers Are Untouchable
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Lt. Col. Adtaphon Sudsai, a highly regarded, outspoken officer, was instructed to lay off what had seemed an open-and-shut case he cracked four years ago when he penetrated a gang along the Mekong River smuggling pangolin. This led him to Mrs. Daoreung Chaimas, alleged by conservation groups to be one of Southeast Asia's biggest tiger dealers. Despite being arrested twice, having her own assistants testify against her and DNA testing that showed two cubs were not offsprings from zoo-bred parents as she claimed, Daoreung remains free and the case may never go to the prosecutor's office. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, August 15, 2012]
"Her husband has been exercising his influence," says Adtaphon, referring to her police officer spouse. "It seems that no policeman wants to get involved with this case." The day the officer went to arrest her the second time, his transfer to another post was announced. "Maybe it was a coincidence," the colonel says.
"I admit that in many cases, I cannot move against the big guys," Chanvut, the retired general, notes. "The syndicates like all organized crime are built like a pyramid. We can capture the small guys but at the top they have money, the best lawyers, protection. What are we going to do?"
Communist Laos continues to harbor Vixay Keosavang, identified as one of the region's half dozen Mr. Bigs, who has been linked by the South African press to a rhino smuggling ring. The 54-year-old former soldier and provincial official is reported to have close ties to senior government officials in Laos and Vietnam.
Thai and foreign enforcement agents say a key Thai smuggler, who runs a shipping company, has a gamut of law enforcement officers in his pocket, allowing him to traffic rhino horns, ivory and tiger parts to China. He frequently entertains his facilitators at a restaurant in his office building.
Poaching in Southeast Asia
Many rainforests in Southeast Asia are empty shells: full of large trees and abundant plant life but short off large mammals, many of which have been killed snares. Poachers use neck snares that choke animal to death when it struggles to escape; spring snares that lift the animal in the air and hold it upside down; leg snares that simply held on to the animal leg until it starves to death; jaw traps that clamped down to the bone; falling weigh traps that crush skulls; and bamboo and wooden spikes traps that skewer prey; and traplines set up on heavily used animal trails.
Describing wall of death trapline system in Laos's largest protected forest, conservationist Alan Rabinowitz wrote in Natural History magazine, "The 'wall' I had walked into...was an extended trapline made of sticks and small trees, no more than four feet high, that snakes its way across the valley and up the nearest hillside...I reached an opening that was partly blocked by the skeleton of a barking deer."
"At regular intervals along the walls," Rabinowitz wrote, "I discovered more openings, each with a snare hidden beneath the forest litter. Some openings were large enough for deer, bears and tigers, while other were small and low to the ground, just right for catching civets, small cats and ground-dwelling birds...Later I learned that most of the larger animals in the valley, such as deer, bears and wild pigs, had ben wiped out by this "wall of death" during the previous dry season."
In the old days animals were hunted primarily for food and hunters were interested in maintaining the population for food supplies the future. But these days many animals are killed to supply animals for the Asian animal parts medicine market. Hunters now make lots of money, in many cases selling parts that were nothing to them in the past.
Illegal Animal Trade in Southeast Asia
Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are believed to be major routes in the animal smuggling trade. They are used to transport exotic pets, particularly snakes and fresh water turtles and are supplies for the traditional Chinese medicine market. Shells from sea turtles are carved into jewelry. Hawksbills, oliver ridleys, leatherbacks and green turtles are all found in Southeast Asian waters.
In markets in northern Myanmar you can see body parts from tigers, gaur, clouded leopard and other endangered animals. During a raid on four restaurants that serve dishes made with exotic animals in Rangoon, authorities seized hundred of endangered animals, including four armadillos and one python as well as 68 fresh-water turtles, 18 tortoises, two monitor lizards, and 283 snakes, including 252 vipers and 30 cobras. Pigeons and ducks were also seized. Poaching is done to supply the Chinese market.
So many endangered wild animals have been smuggled into Singapore and Malaysia, and then exported out with false documents, that wildlife officials call these countries "black holes" of "animal laundering." In wild animal markets in Singapore one can buy peeled pythons, gutted six-foot long monitor lizards, caged flying foxes and beheaded toads.
Vietnamese poachers — who often use snares which capture animals indiscriminately — illegally hunt pangolins, sun bears and rare monkeys which are sold to Chinese buyers. In the remote mountains where the animals are found most male villagers over the age of 13 have firearms which range from old muzzleloaders to modern automatic weapons left behind from the Vietnam War. Much of the poaching done in Laos is done by Vietnamese hunters who catch animals such as pangolins, civets, and barking deer for market in Vietnam and China.
In 2004, police confiscated 1.2 tons of turtles, pangolins and iguanas in Vietnam that were bound for wild animal restaurants in China. In another raid, earlier, authorities seized more than 2.4 tons of cobras and turtles bound for China. Police once stopped a newlywed’s limousine at a provincial checkpoint in Vietnam and found it was carrying 473 kilograms of rare animals including pythons, porcupines and rare deer. The fact that the car was weighed down so low gave it away. The couple were arrested and later admitted they were not even married but were a brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
Illegal Animal Trade in Vietnam
In August 2006, Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “Snarling inside a cage and licking its wounds, a clouded leopard is recovering from being wire-trapped by poachers. The jungle feline is one lucky cat. It was rescued last month when Vietnamese guards surprised a trafficker carrying the sedated animal near the Chinese border. But while the 18-kilogram (40-pound) female is now recuperating in an animal rescue center, alongside black bears, gibbons and other rare species, many more wild animals end up in restaurants, traditional pharmacies and souvenir shops. Southeast Asia's forests, a biological treasure trove, have become a gold mine for wildlife traffickers, say ecologists. And Vietnam has become a major Asian crossroads, with animals being smuggled from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia and as far as India for sale here and for export to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. "This clouded leopard could have earned the smugglers 70 million dong (4,300 dollars)," said Nguyen Van Nhung, a veterinarian at the Hanoi Wild Animal Rescue Center. "Its meat would have been eaten and its bones ground up for medicine."People believe it makes them stronger." [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2006 \^]
“Over-exploitation for the illegal wildlife trade now rivals habitat destruction as a major threat to the survival of many species, he said. "Nowhere is this more evident than in Vietnam, where wildlife populations are dwindling at an alarming rate due to illegal trade and consumption." The animals at the rescue center are a cross-section of the species being slowly wiped out. There are gibbons found in a Hanoi cafe, black bears confiscated as cubs near the Lao border, and macaques from the Mekong delta. \^\
Dr Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi Agricultural University estimates 3,000 tonnes of wildlife and wildlife products are shipped in and out of Vietnam every year, with only about three percent intercepted. Half of the trade is for domestic consumption, the other half for export, he said in a report, mainly through the Chinese border crossings at Lang Son and Mong Cai, the area where the clouded leopard was found. Song believes up to 3,500 kilograms of illegal wildlife goods pass through these border towns daily, including pangolins, lizards, turtles, cobras, pythons, monkeys, bears and tigers. Smugglers have used ambulances, wedding cars and funeral hearses to smuggle the contraband, or hired foot porters through middlemen so they cannot reveal their bosses' identities if caught. Permits and licenses are sometimes forged, and customs officials threatened or bribed, Song wrote, blaming "influential people", a euphemism for organized crime. \^\
Poaching and the Illegal Animal Trade in Cambodia
Animal parts from endangered animals are sold openly in Phnom Penh. In the early 2000s at Orussie market and Street 166 in Phnom Penh shops and vendors openly sell body parts from endangered animals; guar skulls, tiger teeth and bones, bear bile, crocodile heads elephant tails, ivory, antlers, lizard skins and feathers from are birds. Occasionally shops had skins from tigers and clouded leopards.
Phnom Penh’s Central Market used to openly sell bear paws, bear skins and crucified monkey according to AP. Elephant tails sold for $200 a piece. Activists with the Conservation International counted six tails in one shop. Many animal parts are sold at traditional medicine shops. One place sold business-card pieces of elephant skin to treat migraines for 20 cents a piece; tiger bones for arthritis at $1.59 per 10 grams.
Trade in illegal animals thrived in Piopet near the Thai border. One of the biggest selections of endangered animals in Southeast Asia was reportedly found at Piopet's market. Many of the poachers that worked there were former Khmer Rouge members. The Khmer Rouge used to catch wild animal to feed its soldier.s
Animals survey in the Cardamom mountains have indicated a shortage of large animals which is an indicator of poaching. Villagers often use snares to catch animals. Most of the animal are believed to be transported through Vietnam to China. Animals smugglers, who are rarely caught of punished, are thriving.
Illegal Animal Trade in India
India has been a center of the illegal animal parts trade for some time. Four raids in January 2000 netted 12 tiger skins, 132 claws from eight tigers, 385 pounds of animals bones, 124 leopards skins, 18,080 claws from more than a thousand leopards.
Animals markets in Calcutta and the state of Bihar often have animals kept in horrid conditions. Rare Himalayan black bears are kept in tiny cages with barely enough room to move and birds are spray painted with vegetable dyes to make them more attractive. [Source: John Putman, National Geographic September 1976]
Animal smugglers are taking live endangered Indian star tortoises. Most of the animals are dead. One wildlife official said, “You can't just catch and transport an adult tiger while it's alive. Normally they are killed, and then their body parts are separated and transported somewhere. Deer meat is for consumption and also deer antlers have different purposes. They are not normally poached to become pets.” Few poachers are caught. One poacher named Veerappan is believed to have killed 300 elephants on the border of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Tiger Poaching, See Tigers, Asian Animals
Illegal Animal Trade in Bangladesh
Soraya Auer and Anika Hossain wrote in The Daily Star of Bangladesh, “The wildlife most commonly poached in Bangladesh are tigers, deer, turtles, birds, pythons and other snakes, marsh crocodiles, gharials, leopards, including the rare Clouded Leopard, and elephants. “Most of the time, the motivation of killing the animal is financial,” says Commander M Sohail, Director of the RAB media wing. “If they kill a tiger or a crocodile it will be for the skin, elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, and deer are killed for their skin as well as their meat.” [Source: Soraya Auer and Anika Hossain, The Daily Star of Bangladesh, July 7, 2012]
“Reaj Morshed, Programme Officer at Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) believes Bangladesh does not create a demand but rather supplies an international demand and acts like a transit lounge for traffickers who have benefited from the country's weak law enforcement in past decades. He informs, “There are tiger farms in China where they are breeding tigers and then they are using the body parts for different medicinal purposes, but raising tigers in a farm is expensive whereas poaching them from the wild is free so that's why there may be a demand for tiger body parts.”
“Morshed also explains some of the poachers' less than humane methods of killing wildlife. He says, “They use traps, guns and poison. They dilute poison with water and put it into something plastic, often a condom, and then put the condom of poisonous water into bait and put it in the forest for the tiger to eat and be poisoned.”
Illegal Animal Trade in Thailand
Thailand is a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking. Authorities typically find rare turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards that feed demand in China and Vietnam. Bangkok is regarded as one of the biggest wild animal smuggling centers in the world. It is a major gateway and transit area for animals on their way from source nations to buyer nations. The chances are whatever animal or animal part a buyer is interested in — whether it be live lemurs, crocodiles, gibbons orangutan babies, endangered cockatoos, bear paws, or tiger bones — it can be found in Bangkok with the right contacts.
Most animals arrive from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and other countries and are shipped to China, South Korea, the United States, Europe and Japan. So many endangered wild animals have been smuggled into Thailand, and then exported out with false documents, that wildlife officials call Thailand, one of the "black holes" of "animal laundering."
Takashi Ozaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Animals poached in Indonesia and Malaysia are transported mainly via Thailand to China, where they fetch high prices. The animals are either transported alive for sale as pets or slaughtered for their meat, pelts, skins or medicinal properties. In 2009, 11 cases of animal smuggling were intercepted through September in Thailand. In January 2009, three dead tigers and a leopard were found in a refrigerated truck that was making its way from Malaysia to China via Bangkok. Thai police estimated the animals could fetch a total of 800,000 baht ($25,000). [Source: Takashi Ozaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16, 2010]
In back street shops of Bangkok it is possible to buy lorises, pythons as thick as a thigh, civets and innumerable kinds of birds. If you have the money it is possible to arrange getting hold of an endangered gibbon. One trader, who said he made over a million dollars a year, told National Geographic he tried to send most of his cargo by plane. "When we sent them by ship, we would lose maybe half," he said.
Michael Casey of AP wrote: A recent visit to Chatuchak revealed cages of illegal Thai birds known as red-whiskered bulbuls, fish tanks full of endangered, radiated tortoises from Madagascar and furry, mouse-like marsupials from Indonesia called sugar gliders. All were being sold illegally into the international pet trade."We were in here five minutes and we saw illegal wildlife," Chris Shepherd, senior program officer for Traffic, said as he walked past aquariums filled with fist-sized radiated tortoises, which are among the rarest reptiles. "Nothing in here is legal," he added. "No one is checking. If they were checking, how could this place exist?" [Michael Casey, AP, December 23, 2006]
In September 2010, a two-month-old tiger cub was found hidden with stuffed tiger toys in the baggage of a woman heading from Thailand to Iran at Suvarnabhumi Airport. A 31-year-old Thai woman was arrested after the tiger was spotted by X-ray machines in overweight luggage. An official said the cub had been drugged and “was very calm, half asleep and half awake when we rescued him.
Walking catfish from Thailand were imported to Florida as part of the tropical fish trade. They walked away from their tanks and made their way to ponds and lakes and now there are millions of them in the U.S.
Bear Paw Restaurants, Tiger Products and Animal Smugglers in Thailand
Restaurants in Thailand serve endangered wild animals. The patrons at restaurants that serve bear and other endangered animal in Thailand are usually from China, South Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. Thai wildlife groups have appealed to the South Korean government to help them stop the "unnecessary murder" of bears that are "hunted, killed and butchered to feed the demand of Korea's market."
An American man, Robert Cusack, was sentenced to 57 days in jail for smuggling in exotic animals and rare orchids. After he arrived at Los Angeles airport from Thailand, during a routine inspection, he was told to open his suitcase. A bird of paradise burst out and started flying around the terminal. When asked if he had anything else, Cusack said, “Yes, I’ve got monkeys in my pants.” He then pulled out a couple of rare pygmy monkeys.
Much of the big time smuggling is done by syndicates that have representatives in countries throughout the world and bring animals into Thailand mostly by boat and overland through the porous borders with with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Orangutans often arrive boat from Indonesia or Malaysia. Bears are usually smuggled from Cambodia or Myanmar. Many of the tigers are breed in captivity.
Thailand has been accused of pushing tigers closer to extinction and not doing more to tackle the trade in tiger parts and products. Investigators have found three factories that process tiger parts into tiger products. The primary material source is believed to be captive tigers, Hundreds of tiger cubs are born in Thailand every year. They are often suckled by pigs so their mother can produce up to three litters a year. Some tigers are smuggled into China on Mekong River boats.
Rare Animal Trade Thrives in Thailand from Lax Laws
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Thailand's decades-old wildlife law also awaits revision and the closing of loopholes, such as the lack of protection for African elephants, and far stiffer penalties. "The bottom line is that if wildlife traffickers are not treated as serious criminals in Southeast Asia we are just going to lose more wildlife," says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia deputy director. "How often is anyone arrested? They just run off, they must be the fastest people on Earth." [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, August 15, 2012]
In AFP reported: “Thousands of tourists and locals throng the congested aisles of Bangkok's popular Chatuchak market every weekend, hunting for everything from a new pair of shiny leather shoes to a puppy. But among the racks of caged creatures is an illegal trade in endangered animals that wildlife police say they are powerless to stop as sellers take advantage of lax Thai laws and punishments. The illicit international trade in rare species is worth an estimated six billion dollars per year, academics estimate, and wildlife campaigners say much of that money now changes hands in the Thai capital. [Source: AFP, November 6 2008]
"It's difficult to arrest these smugglers," Lieutenant Colonel Thanayod Kengkasikij of Thailand's anti-wildlife trafficking taskforce told AFP. His problem is practical and legal as keeping an eye on smugglers as they move about the market is tough enough, but once arrests are made getting the courts to punish them is even tougher. "If the court handed down harsher verdicts to traffickers I think they would be more afraid of us," Thanayod said.
Months of police surveillance at Chatuchak, also known as JJ market, preceded a raid last March, organised with the help of wildlife charities TRAFFIC and PeunPa. During the operation, 40 undercover Thai officers arrested two traffickers attempting to sell three Madagascan Ploughshare tortoises, so rare that conservationists say only 300 remain in the world. In another section of the market a dealer was caught secretly selling slow lorises, endangered primates that live Southeast Asian forests. "Dealers stated openly that many specimens were smuggled into and out of Thailand," said Chris Shepherd, a senior programme officer for TRAFFIC. "They even offered potential buyers advice on how to smuggle reptiles through customs and onto aeroplanes."
The surveillance and raid cost campaigners thousands of dollars. Of the three men arrested, none went to prison -- two were not punished at all and one received a 20,000-baht fine, half the maximum financial penalty. These sort of meagre penalties frustrate wildlife campaigners. "The biggest wildlife traffickers in the world have decided to base themselves in Bangkok because they know that if they get caught the worst that can happen is about a 1,000 dollar fine," saud PeunPa's Steven Galster.
"Nobody's going to jail, not even the guys caught red-handed. Meanwhile the traffickers are laughing all the way to the bank, using Thailand as a base." The international law governing these crimes is called CITES -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species -- to which Thailand is a signatory.But the CITES provisions have not yet been fully translated into Thai law, and gaping loopholes still exist that Galster said will not close until attitudes throughout Thai society are changed.
PeunPa and TRAFFIC spent three years training police to understand the damaging environmental effects of wildlife crime, and now need to persuade judges too. "The police working on wildlife crime used to be called the forestry police, mainly focused on illegal logging and timber trafficking. We've been training them up to go after wildlife criminals," Galster said, adding: "They've gotten pretty good.""But they are seriously discouraged by the current law. They're raring to go but they need the law behind them," he said.
Police say new training seminars for judges are making a difference. "Judges and prosecuting lawyers have changed their attitude since we began campaigning -- they used to think that violators were just earning a living but now they understand they are causing environmental damage," said Thanayod.
But change is slow and the drafting of a new tougher law, which has been the subject of years of discussion, seems as distant a prospect as ever. "The situation's getting better but it's like with anything in Thailand: unless it's drugs or murder they don't think the police are going to take it all that seriously," Galster said.
Mechanics of the Illegal Wildlife at the Bangkok Airport
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Thai and foreign enforcement agents, who insist on anonymity since most work undercover, say they have accumulated unprecedented details of the gangs, which are increasingly linked to drug and human trafficking syndicates. The sources say that when they report such investigations seizures are either made for "public relations," sink into a "black hole" — or the information is leaked to the wrongdoers. Such a tip-off from someone at Bangkok airport customs allowed a trafficker to stop shipment of a live giraffe with powdered rhino horn believed to be implanted in its vagina. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, August 15, 2012]
"The 100,000 passengers moving through this airport from around the world everyday are oblivious to the fact that they are standing in one of the world's hottest wildlife trafficking zones," says Galster. Officials interviewed at the airport, one of Asia's busiest, acknowledge corruption exists, but downplay its extent and say measures are being taken to root it out. Chanvut says corruption is not the sole culprit, pointing out the multiple agencies which often don't cooperate or share information. Each with a role at Bangkok's airport, are the police, national parks department, customs, immigration, the military and CITES, which regulates international trade in endangered species.
With poor communication between police and immigration, for example, a trader whose passport has been seized at the airport can obtain a forged one and slip across a land border a few days later. Those arrested frequently abscond by paying bribes or are fined and the case closed without further investigation. "Controlled delivery" — effectively penetrating networks by allowing illicit cargo to pass through to its destination — is rare.
Chalida Phungravee, who heads the cargo customs bureau at Suvarnabhumi, says just the sheer scale makes her job difficult. The airport each year handles 45 million passengers and 3 million tons of cargo, only some 3 percent of which is X-rayed on arrival. The main customs warehouse is the size of 27 football fields.
But seizures are made, she said, including boxes of tusks — the remnants of some 50 felled elephants — aboard a recent Kenya Airlines flight declared as handicrafts and addressed to a nonexistent company. "We have cut down a lot on corruption. It still exists but remains minimal," she said, citing recent computerization which has created a space — dubbed "the Green Line" — between customs officials, cargo and traffickers. Galster says unlike the past, traffickers are no longer guaranteed safe passage, describing a daily battle at Suvarnabhumi with "undercover officers monitoring corrupt ones and smugglers trying to outwit them all." Such increased enforcement efforts in the region have slowed decimation of endangered species, he says, "but there is still a crash going on. If corruption is not tackled soon, you can say goodbye to Asia's tigers, elephants and a whole host of other animals."
Man Caught with 'Virtual Zoo' in Luggage
In May 2011, AFP reported: “A man has been caught trying to fly out of Bangkok with live baby animals, including leopards, panthers and a bear, in his luggage. The animals, which were all under two months old and had been drugged, were discovered in the suitcases of a man heading for Dubai on a first class plane ticket, the Freeland Foundation anti-trafficking group said. The man, a 36-year-old United Arab Emirates citizen, was waiting to check-in for his flight at Bangkok's international airport when he was apprehended by undercover anti-trafficking officers, according to the Freeland Foundation. [Source: AFP, May 13, 2011]
When authorities opened the suitcases, the animals yawned, said Freeland Foundation director Steven Galster, who was present during the bust. There were two leopards, two panthers, an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys - all about the size of puppies. "It looked like they had sedated the animals and had them in flat cages so they couldn't move around much," Galster said. Some of the animals were placed inside canisters with air holes.
The man, Noor Mahmoodr, was charged with smuggling endangered species out of Thailand, according to Colonel Kiattipong Khawsamang of the Nature Crime Police. He said one of the bags had been abandoned in an airport lounge because the animals were being too noisy. Authorities believe Mahmoodr was part of a trafficking network and are searching for suspected accomplices. "It was a very sophisticated smuggling operation. We've never seen one like this before," Galster said. "The guy had a virtual zoo in his suitcases."
The Freeland Foundation said the animals were taken into the care of local veterinarians. "There's a pretty strong likelihood that some of them wouldn't have survived the flight in the condition they were in," Freeland's Roy Schlieben said. "The fact they were transported alive would indicate the person at the other end wanted to keep them in their residence or some sort of zoo, or maybe even breed them," he said. The anti-trafficking officers had been monitoring the man since his black market purchase of the rare and endangered animals, Freeland said.
Finding such an array of live mammals is unusual. In Thailand, leopards and panthers fetch roughly $5,000 a piece on the black market, but their value in Dubai was presumably higher, Galster said. It was not known if the animals were destined to be resold or kept as exotic pets, a practice popular in the Middle East. If convicted, Mahmoodr could face up to four years in jail and a 40,000 baht (about $1200) fine, Kiattipong said.
Animal and Animal Parts Trade on the Laos-Vietnam-China Border Area
Karl Ammann wrote in Natural History magazine, In 2010, I was in “a new casino town on the border between Laos and China. In such semi-autonomous enclaves, built on leased territory, the laws of the countries on either side of the border go out the window. Gambling, prostitution, drugs, and illegal wildlife consumption become the main economic activities. The wildlife-related enterprises, including the establishment of bear bile farms, were what we were looking into. As we walked the streets we came across two clouded leopard cubs hidden in a cardboard box. The species is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. I took them out and played with them.” [Source: Karl Ammann, Natural History magazine, September/ October 2012 ***]
“In the meantime our translator was approached by a truck driver, who had his vehicle parked nearby and who had witnessed the commotion. He told our guide that if we were interested, there were two tiger cubs a few hours away that were for sale. He gave us the address, and subsequently we went off to find the place, toward the center of Laos. When we got there we found out that the cubs had been sold to a Vietnamese buyer two days earlier for $4,000. ***
“To learn more, we hired the Laotian hunters who had procured the tiger cubs. Using a cow as bait, they had killed the mother tiger with a land mine and then caught the cubs, which were sold via family members living near the main road. We also hired a Vietnamese who lived in Laos as a guide and translator; he was going to try to help us track down what had become of the cubs in Vietnam. Our group first traveled to the area in Laos where the mother tiger was killed and then crossed into northern Vietnam, heading toward what those involved thought was the most likely final destination. It was then that we learned that our Vietnamese translator had fled from Vietnam and settled in Laos a few years earlier. His brother had been arrested for trafficking heroin and sent up for twenty years to a high-security prison near Hanoi; the authorities had then started looking for our translator. This was the first time he had returned to his home country, and he got an enthusiastic welcome from some of his family members. Evidently wildlife and drug trafficking were in totally different leagues when it came to national law enforcement priorities. Whereas our translator’s brother got a twenty-year sentence for drugs, when it came to discussing tiger and tiger-bone trafficking, nobody seemed the least bit worried about any kind of law enforcement. ***
Our translator, who had also trafficked in wildlife and tiger bones in the past, introduced us to some of the well-known dealers in a nearby town. We were offered so-called tiger cake or jelly (a residue boiled down from tiger bone), tiger claws and teeth, and also a slab of rhinoceros horn marked as weighing eighty-nine grams, a little over three ounces. The next morning we sent our translator back to the dealer who had the slab of what he said was—and what looked like—rhino horn, to buy $100 worth of it. The transaction was documented with a hidden camera. The dealer then also invited our man to come to the kitchen, where a tiger skeleton was being boiled down into tiger cake. ***
“We realized that wildlife traders in these parts were not just dealing in one product line, but in any wildlife items that would offer a good return. (As a matter of fact, we had seen tiger bone cake pieces and tiger claws and teeth in a special sales display case in the lobby of the Vietnamese hotel where we had been staying in Dien Bien Phu, and the hotel menu was full of “forest food” items such as pangolin, porcupine, and turtle.) It also became clear that irrespective of the particular products they sold—whether tiger, ivory, or rhino horn—the traders we met were all potential sources of information on all of these items. So while still trying to track down the tiger cubs, we started a new project: looking into rhino horn—its prices, availability, uses, and so on. ***
Oh, and what about the two tiger cubs? We never found out what became of them. Most likely they ended up on a tiger farm, where the fact that they were caught in the wild was disguised. There they would be fed until they became the right size, and then butchered for their bones, skins, claws, and other valuable parts. The meat may also be sold, but it is not a sought-after product. ***
Illegal Animal Poachers and Traders in Thailand and the Philippines
Poachers are acting hunting and captured endangered animals in Thailand’s national parks and wildlife preserves. They often work at night and are armed with automatic weapons. Many of them use snares and traps to capture animals rather than guns and other weapons.
An estimated 300 poachers are active in Khoa Yao Park alone. They have been accused of catching tigers, elephants, sambar deer and gaur. Many are not even after animals but after valuable wood and fungus. Scented aloe wood taken from Khoa Yao fetches up to $550 per kilogram.
Some poachers are professionals. Most are believed to be villagers trying ro make money any way they can. One former poacher told AP, “Some people want to change, but they need to get money to send their kids to school, or pay off debts. They go into the jungle to stop their families from going hungry.”
Michael Casey of AP wrote: “Traders say much of their success lies in bribing officials and forging documents to trick customs agents into thinking an animal was bred in captivity or can be sold legally — an easy task since officials have little experience identifying rare species."Before I reach a ferry, I make a call. I tell them, 'You didn't see anything,' and I leave an envelope" full of money, said a Filipino trader, who agreed to explain how the business works on condition of anonymity. "You know, in our government, nothing is impossible as long as there is money." Dealers said they also advise customers on how to smuggle small animals without getting caught. "My customers put them in suitcases, in socks. ... They wear loose paints, and put them in their underwear," said a Thai trader who identified himself only as An. "No problem. Thailand is not strict," he added. [Michael Casey, AP, December 23, 2006]
Illegal Animal Trade in Indonesia
Indonesia is a major source and a hub for the trade in endangered species. Rare animals from Indonesia are both sold in Indonesia and smuggled out of the country, primarily to Bangkok where they can reach a bigger market and fetch higher prices. It is also a transhipment center for animals smuggled out of Australia bound for Southeast Asia.
No one knows for sure how extensive the trade is but it is worth millions. By some estimates the illegal animal market in Indonesia is the largest in the world. Jewelry made from giant turtle shells and elephant tusks are sold in souvenir shops. Penises and bones from endangered tigers and horns rhinos make their way to the Chinese medicine market.
Malaysia and Indonesia now have stiff penalties for illegally selling , keeping or smuggling orangutans and others wild animals but often it seems that animal trafficking laws don’t have much of an affect on the trade. On the national agenda, animal trafficking is a low priority. Much of the work to combat the trade is done by foreigners.
Members of the police and the military, especially in West Papua (Irian Jaya), are widely involved in the rare animal trade and profit greatly from it, and sometimes even own endangered animal themselves as pets. Birds and animals are smuggled in Navy ships. Soldiers routinely take animals with them when the finish their tours of duty.
Markets Selling Illegally-Traded Animals in Indonesia
Pramuka market in Jakarta is one of Asia’s largest black market for rare animals. Established in1967 as a bird market, it covers an area the size of a football field and offers all kinds of animals. Vendors, ignoring faded signs that threatens buyers and sellers for endangered animals with five years in prison, offer potential customs orangutans and siamang gibbons and tell them they can get them anything they want. Monkeys, parrots, dogs and other animals are sold as food, pets and medicines.
One wildlife official saw a crate at a Jakarta bird market, designed for half-dozen birds, stuffed with 150 birds. the bottom of the crate he said was "literally solid with the carcasses of dead birds.”
Takashi Ozaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “On the fringes of Jakarta's famed bird market, where a cluster of stalls sell all manner of small birds, black marketeers can be found offering wild animals for sale. I was approached by one black market trader who led me into a room in a house nearby. There I saw two siamang gibbons cowering in a cage. Siamangs are endangered and prohibited from being commercially traded by the Washington Convention. The man told me they were available for 7.5 million rupiah (about each. "Japanese tourists like tiny monkeys that can be carried in your pocket," he said, grinning. "How about a baby slow loris? You can sell this monkey for a high price in Japan, can't you?" [Source: Takashi Ozaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16, 2010]
Animals Sold in Illegal Animal Market in Indonesia
The problem of illegal animal sales is particularly acute for large mammals, monkeys and apes. Indonesia has more endangered species of primate that other country and its tigers and rhinoceros are among the rarest in the world.
Komodo dragons sell for up to $50,000 on the black market. The babies of the siamang, the largest of all gibbons, are popular items. Cuscus, a small marsupial, are siod to passing drivers for as little as $25 a piece. Black-capped lorises, beautiful red and green birds, are smuggled out of West Papua with the help of the Navy.
Black palm cockatoo sell for between $12,000 and $20,000 on the black market and their eggs sell for up $10,000 a piece (more per weight than cocaine or heroin). They are among the world's most intelligent parrots. They are found on the Cape York peninsula of Australia and in Indonesia.
Orangutans sell for up to $55,000 on the black market. They are often picked up by sailors in Indonesian ports and sold through dealers in Bangkok and Taiwan. Wildlife officials in the U.S. confiscated an orangutan skull, carved with decorative swirls and lightning bolts.
New Species Discovery in Laos Attracts Wildlife Traders
Laurel Neme wrote in mongabay.com: “Scientists and the public usually rejoice when a new species is discovered. But biologist Bryan Stuart has learned the hard way that the discovery of new species, especially when that species is commercially valuable, has a dark side-one that could potentially wipe out the new species before protections can be put in place. Stuart has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists - so far. That includes 22 species of frogs, three types of snakes, and two salamanders. His experience with one of these, a warty salamander from Laos with striking markings (Laotriton laoensis), opened his eyes to a dark side of scientific discovery: commercial overexploitation before protections are in place.[Source: Laurel Neme, mongabay.com, December 21, 2011, Dr. Laurel A. Neme is also the author of “Animal Investigators: How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species”]
Shortly after Stuart described the previously unknown species Laotriton (Paramesotriton) laoensis in a scientific paper published in 2002, commercial dealers began collecting this Lao newt for sale into the pet trade. In essence, the dealers used Stuart's geographic description in the paper as a “roadmap” to find the rare newt. This situation is not unique. It's also happened with a turtle (Chelodina mccordi) from the small Indonesian island of Roti, which was so heavily hunted that today it is nearly extinct in the wild. Similarly, a rare gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) from southeastern China was extirpated from its locality as prices in importing countries soared to highs of $1,500 to $2,000 each.
Bryan Stuart told Laurel Neme: We published a description of the newt and where it was found “and then I set out on the business of working on other projects. What happened then was something very unexpected. Because this species of salamander was very, very poorly known - it was essentially known only from the two localities that were presented in its original description, and just based on very, very few animals - and it was such a large and colorful and warty animal that was so unusual, a demand was created by people who collect amphibians and reptiles for the pet trade. [Source: Laurel Neme, mongabay.com, December 21, 2011, Dr. Laurel A. Neme is also the author of “Animal Investigators: How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species” -]
“There is a demand to have rare species in private hobbyist collections. What I never anticipated would happen is that commercial collectors used the scientific description of this species, used the actual scientific journal as a sort of road map, for how to go and find it and commercially exploit it for profit. -
“What happened was, both almost simultaneously, some commercial collectors from Germany and commercial collectors from Japan converged on the small geographic area in Laos where it occurred and, illegally, without permission, started collecting these animals and paying local people to collect them. Ultimately, very large numbers of these animals were illegally taken out of Laos, and sold for a very high value in Japan and Europe. The price varies, but essentially local people were paid approximately ten to twenty U.S. cents per individual [salamander], and then they're selling back in Europe or Japan for the equivalent of over 200 Euros a piece; so, a very striking price difference. -
“But it became a real worry because the salamander was only known from these two little streams, and commercial collectors had converged on those two small areas where the species was known to commercially exploit it for profit. There was some real worry that in fact this species might be threatened with extinction from its practice. -
“What's unfortunate is the newt occurs not only in a small geographic area but, within that small geographic area, it occurs only in within certain streams, at the very high elevation portions of those streams. [Plus,] it's a species that you can see very easily [both] during the day in these small stream pools and also at night. They tend not to be shy because they have very toxic skin secretions. They're very comfortable walking about the bottoms of these stream pools during the day and that makes them very readily harvested by people. -
“In response to these demands that were set up by foreign collectors, the animal can be collected in very high numbers, very quickly. For example, villagers would often report to us selling this very rare, locally endemic Lao newt to visiting traders not by the number of individual salamanders, but by the kilogram-representing enormous numbers of these salamanders. It's really quite tragic what happened. -
“It's a dual dilemma. On the one hand, publishing scientific descriptions of new species may inadvertently facilitate their extinctions for commercially valuable species. Yet on the other hand, the conservation benefits of describing the new species can outweigh this potential risk. To reduce the potential tragedy, Stuart recommends that taxonomists work closely with relevant governmental agencies to coordinate publication of the description with legislation or management plans that can thwart overexploitation of the new species. Indeed, he and his students have worked tirelessly in this regard and, in August 2008, Laos' Department of Forestry protected the Lao newt from commercial trade. Now, the remaining question is one of enforcement.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014