The illegal trade in tigers and other wild cat parts from Myanmar to China has skyrocketed in recent years, a new study based on two decades of data suggests.
“In [Myanmar’s] Mong La, at the China border, [shops selling wild cat parts] more than trebled from six in 2006, to 21 in 2014,” Traffic, a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization that tracks the illegal wildlife trade in Asia, said in a statement Monday.
The shops cited in Mong La cater almost entirely to customers from China, the group said, based on findings recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, examining seven surveys between 2001 and 2014 in the border town.
The increase in the number of shops in Mong La may be linked to the rising buying power of China’s consumers and the apparent ease in smuggling illegal wildlife parts into China from the town, the study said.
The study, co-authored by Chris Shepherd, Traffic’s director in Southeast Asia, and Vincent Nijman, an anthropology professor at Oxford Brookes University, suggests Mong La has emerged as one of the biggest centers for illegal wildlife trade in the region.
Wild cat trade in Tachilek
It also looked at nine separate surveys of wild cat trade in Tachilek on the Thai border between 1991 and 2013, where the number of shops that sold wild cat parts fell to six last year from 35 in 2000.
The authors of the study suggested the decrease in Tachilek could be due to greater enforcement action in Thailand and because customers in the town visiting from Thailand are now mainly interested in buying cheap clothing.
More than 2,000 wild cat parts were sold in the two border towns, according to the surveys, including claws, skulls, canine teeth and skins—with the majority of them being skins.
Tiger parts were found in 80 percent of the surveys, representing at least 200 tigers, while the most commonly traded parts were from clouded leopards, numbering around 480 animals.
Other cat parts in demand were other types of leopards, tigers and the Asiatic golden cat.
All wild cat species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and by national laws.
“The trade in large cats and other wild cats is a clear impediment to their conservation,” the article in Biological Conservation said.
“Myanmar is an important country for cat conservation, both because of the presence of significant populations of threatened species but equally as it is positioned strategically between China, Thailand and India.”
Traders in both towns said the tiger and leopard products came mainly from Myanmar and India, although previous studies had reported that large cat skins and bones sold in Tachilek originated in Thailand, according to Traffic. All the small cats came from Myanmar.
“With little or no enforcement in Tachilek and Mong La, it’s open season for wildlife traffickers, with the contraband bought by those who have little fear of being stopped for their criminal actions,” Shepherd said in the statement.
The authors called for more effective enforcement and prosecution of wildlife criminals in Myanmar and urged border countries, especially China, to devote more resources to curbing the illegal wildlife trade.
“It’s time for the relevant enforcement authorities to live up to their international commitments to address wildlife crimes,” Nijman said.