We reported recently on the trade in illegal wildlife goods being brought into the UK. However, the scale of the problem is far worse in south east Asia where the wildlife of densely forested Myanmar (or Burma) is being slowly wiped out by the demand for both live animals and body parts.
Despite many live animals being on the IUCN Conservation Union’s “Red List” of critically endangered species, the law does little to curb the flourishing trade.
Animals are sold and killed for meat, for their tusks and skins, and for use in traditional medicines. Well organised criminal gangs are believed to smuggle animals and animal parts into China from countries including Myanmar and India.
Steven Galster of the Wildlife Alliance comments that “Burma is being raped in terms of its natural resources – trees, plants and animals. They’ve got to get a hold of the situation quickly before it becomes a barren ground. There’s a huge flow of illegal wildlife going into China…the Burmese government just doesn’t have a handle on the situation.”
Myanmar is governed by a brutal military dictatorship, and the country is currently in the throes of an economic crisis, with skyrocketing inflation. A former British colony, it is one of the poorest countries in south east Asia.
The exotic animal black market is worth billions of dollars a year, and is thought to be exceeded in value only by the illegal trade in arms and drugs.
“These gangs are very big and have members stretching from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and right up into China,” said Aroon Promphan, a captain in the special wildlife crime division of the Thai police. “They tend to be armed and there’s still political influence in countries like China and Myanmar.”
In 2004, the government of Myanmar did set aside a stretch of jungle the size of Vermont in the isolated Hukawng Valley to become the world’s largest tiger reserve. The country also signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997.
However, much still needs to be done in terms of educating the population about the value of endangered species and the need to preserve them in the wild, cracking down on trafficking gangs and preventing illegal trade.
Sources include: Reuters
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