ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Domestic Demand For Illegal Wildlife Meat Grows in Laos
Sales of endangered wildlife in Laos, which has gained notoriety as a haven for the trade, is being driven increasingly by domestic demand from affluent politicians and urban residents who seek animal parts and meat for personal consumption, according to nongovernmental organization officials.
The endangered wildlife for sale in the Dongmarkkhay and Nong Niew markets in the capital Vientiane, for example, is being bought mainly by Laotians who want animal parts for medicine or to eat, said an NGO official who works in Laos, but declined to be named.
“What happens in Laos is that the politicians are likely to use parts of wildlife for herbal medicines,” he told RFA’s Lao Service.
But the main reason for growing demand and supply is the popularity of wild animal meat among urban residents, he said.
A third market Thongnamy, in Bolikhamsay province in central Laos, sells a variety of illegal wildlife.
“Beside the market, there is a sign about protecting wildlife and a contact number to reach wildlife officials,” said an official who works for an international NGO in Laos.
“When people see wildlife being sold there and inform the officials, the officials say they can no longer do anything because they have caught and fined the smugglers many times, yet they continue to do it.”
Since 2013, agriculture and forestry officials seized more than 800 wildlife species being sold in Vientiane markets, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, who declined to be identified, told RFA’s Lao Service.
“We inspected markets, restaurants and buses in the capital and provinces, and found many endangered species such as squirrels, wild pigs, birds, lizards and snakes,” the official said.
Authorities had released about 320 species that were still alive into their natural habitats, and will fine and re-educate the wildlife traders, he said.
The wildlife seized in Vientiane comes mainly from the forest just outside the capital, which is why the animals tend to be smaller, while larger one such as deer, tigers and bears, are confiscated in the provinces, the official said.
In some areas, sellers will not do business in the markets, but keep wildlife at home to fill customers’ orders, despite a wildlife and aquatic law that protects it, the official who works for an international NGO in Laos said.
Some urban residents, however, are becoming leery of consuming wildlife meat because they are afraid of ingesting formalin, an aqueous solution of formaldehyde, which is used to preserve dead animals, he said.
Sellers of wildlife sometimes use the chemical to preserve the meat for as long as possible, he said. But rural residents don’t have any reservations about eating the meat.
“It is impossible for rural people to stop hunting and eating wildlife because they are poor and their livelihoods are based on forest products,” the first NGO official said.
Restaurants shut down
Laos has 24 reserved forest areas nationwide to conserve wildlife, biodiversity, aquatic species and trees.
Yet, the small landlocked country is a popular destination for illegal wildlife smugglers. Visay Keosavang, is the biggest animal trader among southeast Asian countries, but he remains at large.
Although trade in wildlife parts thrives in local markets, authorities have begun to crack down on other places known to sell them.
Authorities in Bokeo province in northwest Laos recently shut down four restaurants that offered wildlife on their menus and seized and destroyed illegal endangered animal parts in the Golden Triangle special economic zone, where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar converge, the Vientiane Times reported.
The vice president of the SEZ said the restaurant owners could be foreigners who are not familiar with Laos’ rules and regulations that protect endangered wildlife, according to the report.
In a report released on March 19, the London-based activist group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that the Golden Triangle special economic zone housed a Chinese-owned casino and resort complex where wildlife was kept in captivity for patrons to eat. One restaurant in the complex offered bear's paws, monitor lizards, pangolins, Tokay gecko, snakes and turtles on its menu.
The report said Laos “has become a lawless playground catering to the desires of visiting Chinese gamblers and tourists who can openly purchase and consume illegal wildlife products and parts, including those of endangered tigers.”
The group called on the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to impose trade suspensions on Laos for not cracking down on the illegal wildlife trade at the complex.
Laos is a signatory to the CITES, a multilateral treaty which seeks to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animal and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
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