• From 2019 to 2020, market surveys from wildlife commerce watchdog TRAFFIC discovered near 78,000 unlawful wildlife components and merchandise on sale in additional than 1,000 retailers throughout Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
  • A major a part of this commerce exercise got here from particular financial zones established between native companies and Chinese language corporations, TRAFFIC revealed.
  • Chinese language vacationer demand had been an vital driver of unlawful wildlife commerce within the Decrease Mekong area earlier than the COVID-19 journey restrictions.
  • Whereas the pandemic has lowered commerce exercise, specialists name for elevated monitoring and investigations to dampen wildlife crime in the long run.

SINGAPORE — Particular financial zones set as much as promote commerce between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors are facilitating a black-market commerce in wildlife merchandise, in keeping with watchdog group TRAFFIC. Tens of 1000’s of prohibited wildlife components and merchandise are being bought throughout open and unregulated markets in 5 Southeast Asian international locations, with a good portion of commerce exercise coming from particular financial zones, the group’s newest market surveys reveal.

From 2019 to 2020, TRAFFIC surveyors visited greater than 1,000 retailers in choose cities and cities throughout Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. From pangolin scales to helmeted hornbill pendants, they counted near 78,000 wildlife components and merchandise displayed within the two-year interval. Greater than 70% of particular person gadgets bought had been derived from elephants, particularly ivory merchandise.

Whereas COVID-19 journey restrictions usually lowered commerce exercise, with surveys in late 2020 displaying gadgets similar to ivory bought in smaller volumes, the widespread availability of those merchandise underscores the area’s ongoing wrestle towards wildlife crime, mentioned TRAFFIC advisor Agkillah Maniam.

“The variability and prevalence of unlawful wildlife commerce in a number of places emphasised that the circumstances facilitating unlawful commerce haven’t solely remained however, in some instances, proliferated,” Maniam mentioned in a press assertion.

Amongst these places are particular financial zones arrange by native companies and Chinese language companies, similar to Boten and Bokeo in Laos, and Sihanoukville in Cambodia, TRAFFIC highlighted. Whereas these zones exist to facilitate commerce, funding and financial development, their particular enterprise legal guidelines and concentrate on open commerce have additionally contributed to flourishing unlawful wildlife operations, Maniam mentioned.

A big a part of the demand for prohibited wildlife merchandise in these areas comes from Chinese language vacationers, specialists say. Earlier than journey bans floor arrivals to a halt, some 20 million Chinese language vacationers had been visiting the 5 Decrease Mekong international locations yearly. The flood of vacationer {dollars} that they had been bringing for years earlier than that had formed the event of particular financial zones like Boten, Bokeo and Sihanoukville, reworking them into on line casino boomtowns. Pre-pandemic, Chinese language vacationer spending had additionally been driving wildlife commerce within the area, in keeping with Okay. Yoganand, regional lead for wildlife and wildlife crime at WWF Larger Mekong, who is predicated in Laos.

When China shut down the ivory commerce inside its borders in 2017, the commerce throughout the better Mekong area grew to become “extra distinguished,” Yoganand mentioned. “There are a variety of Chinese language vacationers, so even when a small proportion buys ivory and different wildlife merchandise, that’s nonetheless an enormous quantity.” Demand for ivory has gone down inside China because the 2017 ban, “however vacationers nonetheless come out to different areas the place the commerce occurs,” he added. “And so they drive the commerce with their purchases.”

Although commerce exercise has abated prior to now yr, with cross-border restrictions limiting vacationers and making it tougher for merchants to proceed importing unlawful wildlife merchandise, the post-pandemic influence on regional wildlife commerce stays to be seen.

“Persons are much more conscious now, they’re seeing this connection between wildlife commerce and the pandemic. So we’re hoping not less than a number of the opportunistic patrons will keep away from wildlife purchases in future,” Yoganand mentioned. “However in fact, a variety of this commerce can also be about advertising and marketing. The merchants, smugglers and traffickers are going to reply they usually may provide you with new merchandise and advertising and marketing methods to extend [sales]. That may steadiness out a number of the optimistic issues taking place and now we have to be watchful.”

“It might be naïve to suppose that the pandemic alone will dampen wildlife crime in the long run,” Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, mentioned in a press assertion. “Monitoring and investigations should proceed. Floor-truthing is essential to precisely perceive how traffickers, merchants and shoppers reply and adapt to adjustments.”

Banner picture of Thai customs seizure of black pond turtles. Picture courtesy of P. Tansom/TRAFFIC.





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