Tourism said to gas Southeast Asia’s illegal wildlife trade

This article is written by Soraya Kishtwari and was originally published on China Dialogue beneath a Creative Commons licence.
Tourist guides and data centres in Southeast Asia have been fuelling the illegal wildlife trade by facilitating consumption by tourists, several investigations show.
Prior to Covid-19, shops buying and selling wildlife items, from ivory bangles to tortoise shells, relied heavily on vacationers, forming partnerships with travel agents and tour guides.
Since the pandemic, and in plenty of cases earlier than it, traders have been shifting their operations online, with extra sellers arising than being shut down.
Without a major enhance in effort from legislation enforcement agencies and online sales platforms, in-person sales are prone to pick up once more once the pandemic recedes.
Aiding and abetting

Illegal wildlife traders will typically pay guides and vacationer places of work a fee to send folks their way, says Hong Hoang, founder and executive director of CHANGE, an environmental NGO primarily based in Vietnam.
In 2018, Hong visited Mong Cai in northeastern Vietnam, on the border with China, as a half of an undercover investigation with WildAid. Via a hidden digicam, the group recorded retailers promoting ivory to consumers from China and Vietnam.
Vietnam banned commerce in ivory in 1992, however selling specimens produced before this date remained authorized, allowing some shopkeepers to move off recently carved ivory as outdated inventory. Meanwhile, a lot illegal trade continues with impunity.
During Hong’s go to to Mong Cai, many shoppers seemed to be escorted by guides. “It was taking place in broad daylight right underneath the noses of the police,” says Hong. The illegal wildlife trade inside the tourism business has “been there endlessly and everybody knows about it,” she provides.
Although improved policing means arrests associated to wildlife crime are on the rise in Vietnam, the country’s popularity for patchy regulation enforcement endures.
Mong Cai, for instance, is a notorious transit point for shifting contraband throughout the border. After their 2018 journey, CHANGE and WildAid put up billboards and posters within the metropolis, warning that purchasing, selling or possessing ivory carries a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
“[But] it’s not just in the border town of Mong Cai,” says Hong. Wherever tourists flock, the black market in wildlife thrives. “It’s in Expert , it’s in Nha Trang, it’s all over the place [in Vietnam]. We just don’t have a good chunk of cash that we are in a position to dedicate to conduct an honest survey,” she provides.
Ivory nonetheless attracts tourists

Until lately there has been little data on the size of tourist sector complicity within the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia.
Last yr, WWF commissioned a survey on the ivory consumption of 3,000 Chinese travellers abroad. Respondents answered questions about their pre-pandemic trips to seven international locations and territories, together with Vietnam and Thailand, between August 2019 and January 2020. Of those who reported having visited a store which sold ivory, 60% mentioned they had been referred there via an area guide, while 37% mentioned vacationer data centres had sent them there. In whole, 6.8% ended up purchasing an ivory product. More than half (57%) of all respondents who visited an ivory retailer mentioned the salesperson spoke Chinese.
Ivory can be well-liked among Thai and Vietnamese shoppers. For some middle-class folks with growing disposable earnings, ivory initiatives wealth and social status. Spiritual beliefs also play a component in its enchantment.
The smaller the item, the extra handy it’s for a vacationer with a restricted baggage allowance to travel with, and the more probably a seller will shut a deal. Shipping companies and postal services additionally play a task by facilitating delivery, with 44% of customers having their buy sent to them at house in China by mail, the WWF survey discovered.
“People are smuggling small pieces and customs are basically overlooking it,” stated Yoganand Kandasamy, regional lead for wildlife and wildlife crime at WWF Greater Mekong. “In fact, that’s what shops are marketing: when they sell an object to customers they say ‘You know, a small piece and no one will bother you when you’re crossing the border.’”

He provides: “An individual shopping for an merchandise weighing no more than a hundred grams doesn’t sound like a lot. The drawback is that we’ve one thing like one hundred million travellers from mainland China coming to the region (Southeast Asia, as properly as Hong Kong and Japan), even if it’s just 10% of visitors shopping for these merchandise, it provides up.”

Many unsuspecting tourists will inevitably be targeted by tour operators and tour guides in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. These people work with black-market traders, who’re trained to smell out potential consumers, not least to attempt to recover earnings lost to Covid lockdowns.
“People consider that ivory is bought by collectors. The actuality is that the majority ivory is bought by vacationers, by travellers – and it’s being pushed by the tourism business,” mentioned Wander Meijer, Asia Pacific director at GlobeScan, who performed the survey on behalf of WWF.
It isn’t just ivory that’s marketed to tourists. “Items corresponding to marine turtle combs and followers, small and well-liked as souvenirs … have at all times [been] primarily targeted [at] tourists,” mentioned Douglas Hendrie, enforcement director at Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), a non-governmental organisation.
Online gross sales

E-commerce and social media assist promote unlawful wildlife merchandise to vacationers in Southeast Asia. Increasingly, tourist-focused businesses throughout the region are utilizing these platforms to promote and promote animal parts.
In the Laos capital of Vientiane, for instance, unlawful wildlife products are on open show in Sanjiang market, however much of the particular selling takes place on-line.
“They have QR codes you scan to pal them on WeChat. That opens up an entire album of products, which you ought to purchase online via WeChat Pay and they organize the delivery to your handle in China,” says Debbie Banks, tigers and wildlife crime campaign lead for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). EIA have documented ivory bracelets, tiger teeth, tiger bone wine, helmeted hornbill casques (“red ivory”), bear bile pills, and rhino horn trinkets on the market in the market.
Digitally savvy sellers have been capable of withstand the in-person sales stoop caused by Covid-19 better than most.
For Hendrie, day by day successes in suppressing wildlife crime aren’t keeping up with sales development. “We are primarily throwing sand at an internet tide of gross sales,” he says.
Trade in tiger merchandise ‘out of control’

In Vietnam, the sale and promoting of tiger elements and products is prohibited by law, but tiger bone “glue” – a thick paste made by boiling tiger bones with other elements – remains stubbornly popular, marketed as a remedy for joint problems and a virility booster.
This too is marketed directly to vacationers in Southeast Asia. In a report published final 12 months, EIA reproduced adverts from a tour operator and delivery specialist promoting tiger bone glue on its web site to Vietnamese visitors to Thailand, making clear the operator may organise delivery for buyers.
Another operator advertised the opportunity to purchase tiger bone glue as a reason to visit a “butterfly garden” near Bangkok. In a 2019 investigation, EIA documented how vacationers visiting a retail park in Thailand have been introduced with gross sales pitches marketing tiger bone glue. Salespersons told coachloads of vacationers, largely from China and Vietnam, that “Going to Thailand without shopping for tiger bone glue is such as you haven’t gone [to Thailand]”. This ignores the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) ban on all worldwide commercial trade in tigers and tiger parts.
“We know that Thailand caters to Vietnamese tour teams trying to purchase tiger bone conventional medicine. That’s part of the enchantment — the opportunity to buy ‘exotic’ merchandise,” says Hendrie.
According to Banks, appetite for tiger products is increasingly endangering other cat species too: “African lion bone, tooth and claws are being offered as tiger; likewise jaguar tooth and claws.”

Wildlife restaurants

Southeast Asia’s special economic zones, such because the Golden Triangle the place the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet, and that are well-liked with tourists, stay “key hotspots for the illegal wildlife trade”, in accordance with a survey by NGO TRAFFIC.
Certain eating places have long been recognized to cater to tourists seeking exotic wild meat, in accordance with Nguyen Van Thai, founding director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife and recipient of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to guard pangolins. “When people are travelling to distant locations, close to forests, they need to eat something special from that region, and that often involves bushmeat,” Nguyen told China Dialogue.
Hong agrees. “Bushmeat is a big concern we’re coping with, with vacationers,” she says. “From government officials travelling to [rural] provinces on business, to vacationers consuming civets, pangolins and porcupines, individuals don’t understand that they are supporting the illegal wildlife commerce by consuming these protected species.”

Even well-meaning travel guides and websites contribute to the issue by writing about animal-infused wines and other “exotic” native delicacies as a “must-try” experience for any seasoned world traveller. In many circumstances, they make no point out of the steep price to regionally endangered wildlife of such experiences.
Could ongoing public health issues related to the hyperlink between zoonotic illnesses and wildlife trade offer an opportunity to alter client behaviour? Nguyen isn’t satisfied: “People have been concerned about the health points concerning eating wild meat since Covid, however folks were additionally concerned before. Sars, HIV, avian influenza – it’s all related to wildlife consumption.”

Signs for the long run

There have been some promising developments last 12 months. Twenty-one Chinese entities signed a pledge with WWF and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to sort out the interconnected issues of wildlife trafficking, plastic waste and food waste.
Then, in December, 30 representatives from Vietnam’s travel business committed to supporting responsible tourism, together with by protecting wildlife. They had been brought together by People and Nature Reconciliation, a Vietnamese NGO, and Vietnam’s Responsible Travel Club.
Vietnam has also “made nice strides in the greatest way it offers with wildlife crime,” says Hendrie. “Younger generations are less inclined to devour wildlife or use wildlife traditional medicine. Ivory is the exception to the rule, nonetheless.” At the decrease end of the market, the sale of jewellery and carvings is increasing across all age teams, significantly online, he adds. Tiger and bear claws are additionally popular.
Research from China reveals a slightly totally different picture on ivory. In April, WWF revealed in its fourth annual ivory survey that Chinese shopper demand was at its lowest level since the ivory ban came into pressure, with the proportion of the inhabitants defined as “diehard buyers” dropping to 8% in 2020 – lower than half of the 2017 pre-ban degree. Yet demand amongst those that journey often abroad has not waned; people who travelled simply earlier than the pandemic closed borders purchased ivory in bigger quantities than in 2017..

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