The Myanmar Times

Myat Moe Aung,
August 2, 2019

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A huge haul of elephant tusks and pangolin scales are displayed at Hong Kong Customs after being seized in transit from Nigeria to Vietnam. Myanmar has become a major transit point for the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. Photo - EPA

Myanmar has become an important transit point for the illegal wildlife
trade in Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime (UNODC).

The UNODC released a report this month that said the number of wildlife
trafficking seizures in Myanmar is considerably lower than those made
elsewhere in the Mekong sub-region but the country is an increasingly
important transit point for the illicit wildlife trade.

>From 2013 to 2017, officials seized 34 shipments of pangolin scales and
other parts, totalling more than 1.2 tonnes.

Myanmar also has a modest illegal trade in elephant skin, which is often
found for sale in popular markets in special economic zones such as Mine
Lar and Tachileik in Shan State.

“Myanmar has the perfect conditions for the illegal wildlife trade:
abundant wildlife, conflict in border regions with little or no government
control, located near the infamous Golden Triangle where all sorts of
illegal trade thrives, and neighbours with China, where demand for illegal
wildlife products is greatest,” Christy Williams, country director of the
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Myanmar), said.

He added, “This means the impact on Myanmar?s wildlife is devastating. To
save our wildlife we need to work together across borders to protect our
wildlife, stop poaching and end this insidious trade.”

WWF and fellow conservation partners are working to support the government
in the fight against wildlife trafficking through training,
capacity-building and public awareness campaigns, such as Voices for Momos
and the Yangon Elephant Museum. Myanmar is trying to reduce or eliminate
the illegal trade by burning US$1.15 million (K1.7 billion) worth of
elephant tusks and other wildlife parts that were seized this year, a
Forest Department official said.

The first such event took place in Nay Pyi Taw in October 2018, when 277
ivory pieces, 227 bones of elephants and other animals, 45 animal hides,
1544 horns, 45.5 kilograms of pangolin scales, and 128 other parts were

The second event took place in Yangon in March, when 219 ivory pieces, 210
pieces of elephant trunk, 527 tiger and other animal parts, 800 horns of
various kinds, 134.7kg of pangolin scales, and 241 other parts, totalling
766.11kg, were burned.

U Ohn Win, minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation,
said at the event in Yangon, “We are trying to prevent and take action
against illegal wildlife trafficking with relevant departments and
non-governmental organisations. But the public also needs to cooperate to
ensure the success of this effort.” Recent seizures show that the wildlife
trade is conducted by individuals who make direct contact with specialty
suppliers, sometimes through scrap yards, taxidermy shops, pet fairs,
warehouses and health clinics.

Wildlife traffickers in Southeast Asia have a comparative advantage due to
strong local demand and reliable local supply within the region, making it
home to some of the world?s largest illicit wildlife transactions.

Southeast Asia also plays a key role in the transportation of high-value
items ” highly endangered and illegally-sourced African wildlife ” to the
region, other parts of Asia, and the rest of the world.

Ivory is traded openly in eight of the 10 ASEAN members, excluding Brunei
and Malaysia. Law enforcement in Asia and Africa makes large ivory seizures
every year, many weighing more than 500kg.

The most significant ivory seizures, sometimes along with smaller
quantities of rhino, have been made in Vietnam and Hong Kong, China, but
also in mainland China, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore and Thailand.

These legal domestic markets are usually subject to national regulations
that vary from country to country, and are much smaller than the estimated
illicit market, as indicated by the amount of contraband seized. Estimates
suggest tens of thousands of elephants are illegally killed each year,
producing hundreds of tonnes of ivory for export, with annual seizures
amounting to tens of tonnes, the report said.

The illegal trade in pangolins has grown over the past decade, and more
than one million of the animals are estimated to have been killed.

Another species of concern for Southeast Asia are tigers. Tiger skins, as
well as the skins of other Asian big cats, are used for decoration and
gifts, while their organs are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Bear bile, also taken primarily from the gallbladders of the Asiatic black
bear, has long been used in traditional medicine as treatment for a wide
range of inflammatory and degenerative ailments in East Asia and by Asian
living in other countries.

The global population of Asiatic black bears declined by more than 30
percent over the past 30 years.

The most important illicit wildlife market in Southeast Asia is China,
including Hong Kong, where more than 90pc of buyers are tourists from the

Vietnam is also an important market. Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and
increasingly Laos and Malaysia are major transit hubs. Additional key
transit points include the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia, according
to the report.