Vietnam part of thriving illegal trade in tigers

By Sen    August 26, 2019 | 04:44 pm PT
Vietnam part of thriving illegal trade in tigers
A tiger at a safari in Phu Quoc Island, southern Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Ryasnik.
Vietnam has seized 216 tigers from wildlife traffickers, the fifth largest haul globally since 2000, a TRAFFIC study has found.

Since the World Wildlife Fund’s data showed that in 2016 Vietnam had only five tigers in the wild, there is reasonable suspicion that the tigers seized in Vietnam were sourced from other range countries and/or territories and originated from captive facilities, the U.K. conservation group said in its study published last week.

Vietnam followed India (626), Thailand (369), Indonesia (266), and China (246) in the total number of tigers seized between 2000 and 2018 in 32 countries and territories. Thirteen of them are in Asia with wild tiger populations, including Vietnam.

In the case of Vietnam, data on tiger seizures is available only for 2004-18.

Tigers were reported to be from captive sources in at least 55 seizures, accounting for a total of 366 tigers seized, largely in Thailand and Vietnam.  

Trade in tigers, parts

Carcasses and live tigers were the primary items seized in Vietnam, accounting for 43 percent and 26 percent. Of the parts, bones accounted for 15 percent and others like claws, teeth and skin for the rest.

In Thailand, carcasses and live tigers accounted for 93 percent.

Tiger skins and bones were the top two items seized in India, Indonesia, Nepal, and China.

In Vietnam, 30 percent of seized tigers originated from captive breeding facilities.

Trafficking routes

The report also compiled a list of the 20 provinces or states with the highest number of seizures around the globe, with Vietnam appearing twice: Hanoi with 76 tigers and Binh Duong Province, north of Ho Chi Minh City, with 42.

Top 20 locations where the highest number of equivalent Tigers were seized between 2000–2018. Screenshot from Traffics report on tiger trafficking. 

Top 20 locations in terms of seizures this century. Data from TRAFFIC.

India featured the most number of times – seven – since it has by far the largest wild tiger population in the world.

Seizure data also identified tiger trafficking hotspots in the various countries and territories, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam formed two transnational crossings for tiger trafficking: one is between Nghe An - Ha Tinh Provinces in north-central Vietnam and Bolikhamxay in Laos; and the other between Mong Cai in the northern province of Quang Ninh and Dongxing in China.

Almost 90 percent of Vietnam’s seizures involved trafficking from Laos, but since that country has no viable wild tiger population, the most plausible source is captive.

On July 29 the Hanoi police arrested three men for allegedly trafficking seven frozen tiger carcasses from Laos to Vietnam. The gang that had been trafficking tigers from Laos for several years.

The trafficking routes exposed by TRAFFIC are predominantly overland with seizures at airports and seaports being too few to be significant.

The authors of the study said a significant number of tigers from captive sources were seized during the 19-year period.

"Seizures of tigers from captive facilities continue and serve as a stark reminder that such facilities seriously undermine conservation efforts to safeguard this species and provide opportunities for laundering and other illegal activities," Ramacandra Wong, TRAFFIC’s senior crime analyst, was quoted as saying in a press release.

What can be done

The report is a clarion call to both transit and consumer countries and territories to improve legislation and continue intelligence-led law enforcement so that tiger parts and derivatives from captive breeding facilities are prevented from entering the illegal trade chain.

The implementation of legislations and regulations is essential, especially considering fines in many places are too low to be an effective deterrent. For instance, the profit from trafficking tigers far outweighs the potential loss in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and India.

In Vietnam, fines were less than $500 in about half of the cases, based on the figures available to TRAFFIC. Fines in India ranged between $2,000-5,000 in 70 percent of the cases while Indonesia imposed fines between $2,000-10,000 in 37 percent of the cases.

The authors also stress the importance of information sharing between countries in any effort to crack down on international smuggling.

Because tiger skins constituted the highest proportion of items seized across the assessed countries and territories in 2017 and 2018 (35–39 percent), sharing of images of skins by seizing countries could help determine animals’ origins from the stripe patterns.

This would deepen the knowledge and understanding of tiger characteristics as well as patterns of criminal networks that traffic tigers.

On average, 60 seizures were recorded annually of almost 124 tigers each year globally.

Given that seizure data represent only a fraction of illegal trade, the loss and potential decline in wild tiger populations is suspected to be much greater than reported in the study, TRAFFIC warns.

Currently there are around 3,900 tigers left in the wild.

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