Hanoi Environmental Police Seize Tons of Illegal Wildlife Parts
HANOI, Vietnam, January 21, 2009 (ENS) – In their largest-ever seizure of illegally traded wildlife products, Hanoi’s Environmental Police have confiscated more than two metric tons of tiger bones, bear paws and gall bladders, and heaps of bones from various other increasingly rare wild animals.
Environmental Police officers began investigating after they stopped a man transporting a set of tiger bones and 10 kilograms of serow bones and horns by motorbike in the city’s Ba Dinh district.
On January 10 police raided a store in the Dong Da district belonging to Nguyen Thi Thanh Tam that was the end destination of the wildlife parts.
There police discovered another set of tiger bones, six frozen pieces of tiger skin, seven bear paws, 16 bear gall bladders, six porcupine stomachs and 69 bags of bones from various wild animals.
Tam’s testimony led to a third and final arrest of a man manufacturing the tiger bone gel found in her warehouse.
Tigers are globally classified as Endangered and trade in their parts is banned by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species. All tiger range states, including Vietnam, and countries with consumer markets have banned domestic trade in tigers and their parts.
“While this case underscores the very serious threat that illegal trade poses to many of Vietnam’s endangered wildlife populations, we continue to be impressed and encouraged by the good work that the Environmental Police are doing,” said Nguyen Dao Ngoc Van.
Van works with TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, as senior projects officer for the organization’s Southeast Asia Greater Mekong Programme.
Van says the case is the latest in a string of major seizures, and reflects Hanoi’s improved enforcement capacity since the Environmental Police were established as a division of the Hanoi Police Department in 2007.
Since their establishment, the Hanoi Environmental Police have handled 100 cases, one of them involving 24 tons of frozen pangolin meat and scales and nearly 30 involving other wild animals, from leopard cats and civets to pythons and monitor lizards.
“The presence of the Environmental Police in Vietnam will change illegal wildlife trade for the better,” Van said.
Yet, TRAFFIC is critical of Vietnam’s decision to auction off confiscated pangolins, or scaly anteaters, in Hai Phong in October 2008.
Two months later Vietnamese Customs officials seized another 4,400 kilograms of frozen pangolins and 900 kg of pangolin scales in Cai Lan seaport, Quang Ninh.
“Selling off the seized pangolins sent out entirely the wrong message,” said Sulma Warne, TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Programme coordinator. “Whilst it was permissible under Vietnamese law, it undermined the very enforcement efforts that led to the seizure, for which the government received much-deserved praise.”
“This latest seizure in Quang Ninh re-affirms the need to destroy all seized wildlife products, as sell-offs such as the one in October only help to increase demand for pangolins in the region. We call on the authorities to think carefully about how they deal with the seized pangolins in this case,” Warne added.
Pangolins are in great demand in China because their meat is considered a delicacy and some Chinese believe pangolin scales reduce swelling, promote blood circulation and help breast-feeding women produce milk. This, coupled with deforestation, has led to a decline in the numbers of pangolins.
A minimum of 100,000 pangolins per year are needed to supply the Chinese demand, TRAFFIC estimates. Currently, pangolins are mostly harvested in Malaysia and Indonesia and trafficked through the Greater Mekong region for consumption mostly in China, but also increasingly in Vietnam.
Local hunters throughout Southeast Asia report that pangolins are becoming increasingly scarce.
The threat category of both Chinese pangolin and Malayan or Sunda pangolin changed from Near Threatened to Endangered in the revised Red List of Threatened Species issued in October 2008 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, indicating that scientists consider these mammals face a high probability of extinction in the near future.
Tigers are at even greater risk of extinction, threatened by habitat loss, poaching and lack of sufficient prey.
TRAFFIC estimates that today there are fewer than 2,500 breeding adult tigers left in the wild, and some still live in Vietnam, but their numbers are declining. Tigers are listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
Although Vietnam is a party to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, and national legislation is in place to protect many of its wildlife populations, trade in endangered wild plants and animals is widespread throughout the country.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.