Laos failing to curb illegal wildlife trade: Monitor

Channel NewsAsia 23 Sep 16;

BANGKOK: The illegal trade in pangolins, helmeted hornbills and other wildlife products is thriving in Laos, a monitoring group said Friday (Sep 23), urging the Southeast Asian nation to crack down on a lucrative commerce largely fuelled by demand in neighbouring China.

The authoritarian country has long been top transit hub for the smuggling of wildlife products, with widespread corruption and weak law enforcement allowing the criminal activity to flourish.

Wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC said Friday that endangered species such as pangolins and helmeted hornbills were being openly sold in Laos and that law enforcement against the illegal trade remained threadbare.

"Lao PDR clearly needs to address these issues as a matter of urgency or risk becoming dubbed the wildlife smuggling capital of Asia," TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy said in a statement.

Elusive and scaly ant-eating pangolins are critically endangered and ranked as the most trafficked mammal on Earth with more than a million traded in the past decade, according to conservation groups.

They are sought after in China and other parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales.

The meat is considered a delicacy while the skin and scales are used in traditional medicine and to make fashion items like boots and shoes.

TRAFFIC researchers said they found thousands of scales for sale in northern Laos during a survey earlier this year and that more than 5,600 pangolins linked to Laos have been seized between 2010 and 2015.

Many of those animals were smuggled in from Thailand and taken into China or Vietnam.

Products from the critically endangered helmeted hornbill are also widely available in Laos, according to TRAFFIC.

Many shops selling the precious animal parts were operated or staffed by ethnic Chinese employees and prices were often listed in yuan or dollars, the group said.

The statement comes after a mission by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to Laos in July which also raised alarm bells about illegal trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife products.

It said no arrests or prosecutions over wildlife products have occurred since 2012, adding that there are "significant loopholes" in national laws.

The reports come ahead of a 12-day CITES meeting that opens Saturday in South Africa aimed at curbing the rampant wildlife trafficking threatening to drive some species to extinction.

- AFP/hs

Laos promises to phase out tiger farms: Conservation groups

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Laos has promised to phase out farms that breed endangered tigers for their body parts, a positive step from a country believed to be a major hub of wildlife trafficking in Asia, conservation groups said Friday.

The announcement by Laotian officials in South Africa came one day before the start of a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

If implemented, the move could help to curb the illegal trade in tiger bones and other parts used in traditional medicine in areas of Asia, and protect the depleted population of tigers. Conservation groups say there are about 3,900 tigers in the wild.

Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese criminal networks are also involved in tiger farming and trading, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which works with Laos on tiger protection, urged other Asian countries with commercial tiger breeding centers to follow the example of Laos.

"This commitment is a great example of a nation showing leadership to end the practice of breeding tigers, and we hope as well bears, to supply the demand for their body parts," said Susan Lieberman, head of the society's delegation at the meeting in Johannesburg of the 183 member countries of CITES.

The countries in the U.N. group have pledged to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

A CITES delegation traveled to Laos in July and concluded that criminal groups use Laos as a transit point to smuggle wildlife parts to other Asian countries. It also said the import and export of such items allegedly occurs in violation of CITES rules.

"Law enforcement authorities (in Laos) stated that no arrests or prosecutions related to illegal trade in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife specimens have occurred in the country since 2012," a CITES document said. Laotian officials said other nations in the trafficking chain should use their more abundant resources to help Laos and stop illegal trade, according to the document.

TRAFFIC, a conservation group, said the illegal trade in two other species — the pangolin, a burrowing mammal, and the helmeted hornbill, a rainforest bird — is also rife in Laos.

Pangolins are targeted for their meat, as well as scales that are used in traditional medicine to promote blood circulation, reduce swelling and treat other illnesses.

In Beijing, a practitioner of traditional medicine said his practices developed over thousands of years, but he and his colleagues are thinking of replacements for parts of endangered animals.

"It's no problem to use some bugs in the medicine if it can treat diseases," said Hu Guang, who writes prescriptions for his patients with an ink brush. "Why would you use some endangered animals as medicine? It is just not necessary."

Three reports shine spotlight on Lao PDR’s failure to tackle wildlife trafficking
TRAFFIC 23 Sep 16;

Johannesburg, South Africa, 23rd September 2016—The role of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) in the international trafficking of protected wildlife will be under scrutiny today in the lead up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting that gets fully underway this Saturday.

During the CITES Standing Committee today, government representative members will examine a report written by the CITES Secretariat following a Mission to Lao PDR in July this year which is heavily critical of the way the country is failing to meet its requirements under CITES.

Their report highlights critical gaps in legislative coverage, a lack of law enforcement effort and a need to work with neighbouring countries to address transboundary trafficking of species along with a range of recommended actions.

The CITES Mission report also raises concerns “that rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife specimens are smuggled through Laos to other countries in Asia…the country is targeted by organized crime groups as a transit point.”

Illustrating Lao PDR’s poor record in addressing wildlife crime, TRAFFIC today released two reports into the country’s role in the trafficking of pangolins and the Helmeted Hornbill.

“TRAFFIC’s research has provided further insight to the serious failures to regulate wildlife trafficking highlighted by the CITES Secretariat’s Mission to Lao PDR,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy,, TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Manager in Southeast Asia.

“Lao PDR clearly needs to address these issues as a matter of urgency or risk becoming dubbed the wildlife smuggling capital of Asia.”

According to TRAFFIC’s new report Observations of the illegal pangolin trade in Lao PDR (PDF, 4 MB), between April and July 2016 opportunistic surveys in seven northern regions of Lao PDR s found an estimated 2734 pangolins scales while 43 reported pangolin seizures involving an estimated 5678 pangolins implicating Laos were recorded between 2010 and 2015.

Pangolins are being heavily exploited in Asia and increasingly in Africa both for their meat and their scales, which are used in traditional medicine. All eight species - four each in African and Asia - are being considered for increased protection at the forthcoming CITES meeting because of the impacts of illegal trade.

According to a second TRAFFIC report Observations of the Helmeted Hornbill trade in Lao PDR, (PDF, 4 MB), between April and July 2016, TRAFFIC surveys recorded 74 Helmeted Hornbill products in three locations: 18 in Vientiane, 36 in Luang Prabang and 20 in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.

The Helmeted Hornbill, a large rainforest bird, is unique in having a solid bill casque which can be carved and is frequently referred to as “hornbill ivory”. Despite being fully protected in their range States in Southeast Asia, numbers are increasingly being trafficked mainly to China, with Lao PDR acting as both a transit point and the hornbill ivory being sold in Lao PDR’s border towns with China.

The failure of law enforcement was also highlighted in the CITES Mission report, which notes “authorities stated that no arrests or prosecutions related to illegal trade in rhino horn, elephant ivory and other wildlife specimens have occurred in the country since 2012,” and that “significant loopholes” still exist in national legislation.

Particularly damning was their assessment of the CITES Scientific Authority in Lao PDR, which the Mission report states “did not seem to take a very active part in the day-to-day implementation of CITES.”

There has also been a lack of progress in addressing concerns over the laundering of captive bred specimens as wild-caught, with the Ministry of Science and Technology claiming it “does not currently have the capacity to conduct this type of research.”

In March this year, CITES recommended a suspension of trade in Long-tailed Macaques, various reptiles and an orchid from the Laos for persistent failure over a number of years to address such concerns despite repeated warnings and even trade sanctions for failing to do so.

At today’s Standing Committee meeting, members will decide whether Lao PDR must make significant improvements in their management of wildlife trade or potentially face serious trade consequences in July next year.

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