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Killing for Traditional Medicine

Wildlife trade means the sale of wild animals or plants - either alive, dead or as processed parts. It includes food such as fruit and fish, forest products, leather and furs or medicinal plants. Wildlife trade can be legal and does not necessarily harm wild animal and plant populations. But wildlife trade can unfold a very destructive force when the demand for certain species increases and leads to overexploitation. Afte r habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade is the second largest threat to the survival of many species. Today, elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers are among the most endangered mammals on earth due to illegal wildlife trade and habitat los s.

Mong La, Shan State, Myanmar Illicit Endangered Wildlife Market with Tiger Paw, Teeth, Tallow and other parts for sale (Source: Dan Bennett - Flickr)

Such statements illustrate why m any wildlife species are in danger. They are a case in point for the third of five articles about wildlife conservation in Laos in Vientiane Times . This article focuses on some of the threats that endanger the survival of wild animals.

Illegal wildlife tra de is a threat to many animals

After drug-trafficking, product piracy and human trafficking, wildlife trade is the fourth most profitable illegal activity worldwide. According to WWF, wildlife transactions amounting to around 19 billion US dollars per year pose a threat to the conservation of wildlife. Laos has become a wildlife trafficking hub and functions as a transit count ry for ivory, rhino horn, tigers, helmeted hornbills, pangolins and other wildlife. The greatest threat for the survival of tigers, for example, is illegal hunting for commercial trade due to the apparently insatiable demand for supposedly medicinal tiger products. China is the world's largest and fastest growing market for wildlife, and traditional Chinese medicine is a major source for demand. Tigers are killed for their bones, skin, claws and meat. Tiger bone wine is promoted as a tonic that is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is also used to treat rheum atism and impotence. It is also a luxury product and status symbol. Wealthy Chinese are willing to pay more than 300 US dollars a bottle. Other body parts like bones, teeth, claws and whiskers are used as ingredients in traditional medicine in China as well as in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore and Korea.

In addition, tigers are threatened by habitat loss as a result of deforestation and infrastructure projects. Unsustainable hunting practices lead to the loss of prey species so that tigers in search for food are pushed into conflicts with humans.

Today, more tigers live in captivity than in the wild. Many spend a bleak life in captivity at so-called tiger farms - bred to be killed. Such commercial tiger farms do also exist in Laos, but the government announced in September 2016 that these will be closed. Moreover, tiger farms did not stop the hunt for them, but instead stimulated poaching of wild tigers.

Laos as well as other countries show a strong link between road building, natural resource extraction and wildlife trafficking. Loggers are known to supplement their income by hunting and selling wildlife to traders and markets. Hunting wildlife promises easy money, and easier access to remote forest areas facilitates the development of smuggler networks.

Wildlife hunting and trading are regulated by law

Since 2004 Laos is a member of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES aims to ensure that international wildlife trade does not threaten the survival of wild animals and plants. All its 183 member countries have to incorporate the Convention into national law.

In recent years, Laos was suspended from CITES twice. In 2015, the Lao government failed to deliver a national action plan on ivory trade. After handing in the report Laos was reinstated. A year later, Laos failed to submit a report on the implementation of the ivory plan and was suspended again.

National Wildlife and Aquatic Law in Laos regards wildlife as a state property. The wildlife law states that hunting practices that cause massive destruction such as explosives, poison, chemicals or electric shocks are prohibited. Hunting wildlife and aquatic species during the breeding season and in protected areas is also prohibited by law. Traditional hunting and fishing for subsistence is not the problem which is why Lao laws and regulations draw a line between wildlife harvesting for food and for sale. Hunting for home consumption is permitted as long as it is practiced in a sustainable way and does not have negative impacts on the survival of wildlife populations. Commercial hunting and fishing, in contrast, can be much more damaging.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 mammals, 7,000 birds and 4,000 reptiles are sold in markets all over Laos. As a result, some species such as Asian rhinos, tapirs or some deer have already or have almost disappeared from the country's ecosystems. Endangered animals are more valuable alive than on a plate or processed into a jewelry, home decor or tonic. Consumers can contribute to an end of illegal wildlife trade by simply not buying endangered animals and products derived from them.

This article has been contributed by ProCEEd (Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education), a project supported by the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.


(Latest Update
April 20,2017 )


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