Vietnam, China, and Laos have the worst records for preventing the illegal trade of animal parts that has put elephant, rhino, and tiger populations at risk, a conservation group said Monday.
The Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund said in its new “Wildlife Crime Scorecard” report that the demand for rhino horn and the legalization of tiger farms in Vietnam put it at the top of the list of offending countries.
China, seen as the world’s largest market for the trade of illegal animal parts, was ranked second on the list, while Laos came in third.
Vietnam and Laos, along with Mozambique, received two “red” ratings each and were the worst of a group of 23 mostly Asian and African nations that could do more to ban the practice. All 23 trade in or consume illegal animal products.
China and Burma were also cited for failing to adequately address the illegal trade of rhino, tiger, and elephant parts.
China and Vietnam are regarded as primarily destination countries for the illegal trade in animal parts, while Laos and Burma are seen as both countries of origin and destination.
Findings from the report, which gave red, yellow, or green grades to signal failure, partial failure or progress from 2010 to 2012, are due to be presented at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Geneva (CITES) this week.
CITES bans virtually all trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger parts—which are often used in traditional medicines—as part of an effort to save them from extinction.
Vietnam and Laos
The WWF said that Vietnam was the world’s top destination country for rhino horn and that demand had contributed to a “poaching crisis” in South Africa.
“It is time for Vietnam to face the fact that its illegal consumption of rhino horn is driving the widespread poaching of endangered rhinos in Africa, and that it must crack down on the illegal rhino horn trade,” said Elisabeth McLellan, Global Species Program manager at WWF.
“Vietnam should review its penalties and immediately curtail retail markets, including Internet advertising for horn,” she said.
The group said that demand for ground-up rhino horn in Vietnam had increased as the result of a false rumor that it helped cure cancer.
“Many Vietnamese have been arrested or implicated in South Africa for acquiring rhino horns illegally, including Vietnamese diplomats,” the report said.
A record 448 South African rhinos were killed for their horns in 2011, it said.
It also said a decision in 2007 by Vietnam to legalize tiger farms had "undermined" the country's efforts to stop the illegal trade of tiger products. Vietnam has 11 registered tiger farms.
In March, Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had proposed allowing parts of tigers that die in captivity to be made into traditional medicine on a pilot basis.
Conservation groups called the proposal an attempt to effectively legalize trade in tiger products. Vietnam has denied the accusation and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has reportedly rejected the proposal.
The WWF said that both Laos and Vietnam had failed to report how they would comply with a ban on the captive breeding of tigers for medicine and that Laos was also failing to control the ivory trade.
“[Laos] lacks controls to prevent parts from captive tigers entering into illegal trade, especially to Vietnam, and has not made this an implementation priority,” the group said.
“Laos also needs to enforce its ivory trade ban, as nearly 2,500 items were seen in 24 outlets, mainly in the capital city of Vientiane, in a recent survey,” it said.
The WWF cited traders who said that while much of Laos’s illegal ivory is derived from its own Asian elephants, there have been seizures of African ivory en route to Laos in Thailand and Kenya. Laos itself has never reported an ivory seizure.
China and Burma
The WWF also said China and Burma had inadequately complied with or enforced laws against markets for animal parts.
While the WWF gave China “green” grades for taking steps against the illegal trade of tiger and rhino parts, it handed the country a “yellow” mark for failing to police domestic ivory markets, contributing to the endangerment of elephants.
“The ongoing flow of large volumes of illegal ivory to China suggests that such ivory may be moving into legal ivory trade channels,” the report said.
“China is urged to dramatically and consistently improve its enforcement controls for ivory and to communicate to Chinese nationals in Africa that anyone caught importing illegal wildlife products into China would be prosecuted, and if convicted, severely penalized.”
WWF said that tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed by poachers each year for their tusks and that China and Thailand are top destinations for illegal African ivory.
Burma was also given “yellow” grades for inadequate enforcement of laws against the trade of rhino and tiger parts, and a “red” mark for failing to comply with or enforce the protection of elephants.
The Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution has said the illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated U.S. $8 billion to U.S. $10 billion per year in Southeast Asia alone.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.