This issue of
Citylife

Animal Traffic

The following interview is with an Australian wildlife conservationist based in Thailand who has worked for over ten years in an effort to monitor, minimise and eradicate the illegal trade in endangered species. The illegal trade of wildlife is said to be one of the largest illegal markets in the world, after drugs and arms, worth over ten billion dollars annually. Because of the covert nature of his work we have used a pseudonym: Jack.

Citylife:
What does your job actually entail?

Jack:
The conservation of wildlife species, monitoring trade, monitoring trends of species being traded. We don’t only monitor endangered species but also monitor the trade in species that may become endangered.

Citylife:
What species are being traded in this part of the world?

Jack:
All sorts, bears, tigers, pangolins, rhinos, big cats, to name a few.

Citylife:
I would have thought there weren’t that many tigers left over here.

Jack:
One of the biggest populations of tigers left is in Thailand. There are also legal tiger farms operating in Thailand, tigers are sold from these farms. It’s hard to convict the owners of the farms, as there is a lot of corruption involved.

Citylife:
What are the animals used for?

Jack:
In Asia, a lot are used for medicinal purposes, ground tiger bones for many kinds of sicknesses, tiger penis for virility. Some animal parts are used for ornamentation, trophies, jewellery, clothes etc. Animals that are alive are often sold to private zoos, private traders or even amusement parks. Quite often animals are sold for their meat, exotic food . . . tiger meat is a delicacy. People will extract bile from bears and take it as a medicine for all kinds of illnesses from rheumatism to piles. Their paws are also eaten.

Citylife: [/b
The market is mostly in Asia?

Jack:
No, there’s a huge market in the US and also in the UK and some parts of the EU.

Citylife:
Surely it must be difficult to find wild tigers, to capture them, and then export them, especially when alive?

Jack:
It’s not that difficult to capture them. People also breed them for illegal markets.

Citylife:
Who is hunting the tigers, what is the structure of the operation?

Jack:
There is the man on the ground, usually from a poor community, and then there is the middleman that facilitates the movement of the animal and an illegal crime syndicate that trades the animals.

Citylife:
I suppose one animal will generate a lot of money.

Jack:
Yes, but not for the hunter. A tiger will retail at about 30,000 US dollars, dead or alive, but very little will be paid to the hunter, it’s hard to say, but probably less than 200 dollars will go to the hunter.

Citylife:
Surely there’s an international law that prohibits this, how can it go on so unhindered by the law?

Jack:
In Burma the SPCD (Burmese military junta) is giving concessions to Chinese companies to take parts of forests, destroying the fauna and then replanting the forest with rubber. The companies then send agents to local communities whose habitats have been plundered and give cash incentives to locals to source and supply remaining wildlife in the area. The communities, having lost their habitat, are forced by this incentive to hunt. It’s really disgusting. This kind of activity propagates poverty and desperation, and it encourages illegal activity such as the involvement with drugs and animal and human trafficking. Pristine, high value bio-diversity areas are being literally raped.

Citylife:
I’ve seen animal parts for sale in Tachilek, is there a lot of trade going on at that border?

Jack:
Yes, a lot, it’s one of the biggest trading hubs in the region. Ten years ago you’d see tiger skins hung up on shop walls there. They have a lot of foreign customers in Tachilek.

Citylife:
Hypothetically, could I go up there and make an order for a tiger?

Jack:
Yes you could. That is why animal trafficking is so popular because it is high profit with a low risk. The traders won’t go to jail for selling skins, the laws aren’t stringent enough to discourage trading. It is so crucially important though as we are rapidly destroying species diversity. The fact that a tiger is alive in an area is a good sign, it means that everything below it on the food chain is also viable.

Citylife:
And Thailand is a main route from where animals are sold?

Jack:
Yes, not too long ago there was a huge seizure of ivory at Suvarnabhumi airport on its way to East Asia.

Citylife:
What can happen to restrict the trade of animal species?

Jack:
Pressure must come externally, from influential governments, if governments lift sanctions on Burma with a proviso that Burma makes a serious effort to stop the illegal trade in wildlife this will help stop the trade.