Lao PDR’s role in wildlife trafficking revealed

by

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has just exited an Air Asia flight from Hanoi. Smooth skies. Great service. Even the in-flight food was edible, apart from the food.

That’s the good news!

Here’s a heap of bad news courtesy of Dr. Richard Thomas! He’s like that! Always rains on parades. Somebody, unfortunately, has to.

Dr. Thomas is no doubt yearning to send us great news! Really encouraging stuff full of fluffy dogs being reunited with children beside a little house in a grassland in the mid-West.

Unfortunately that is neither his job nor his calling. He, like others at TRAFFIC, has the dreary task of monitoring, reporting and exposing wildlife crime. It is industrial in proportions, murderous in its ambition and ruthless, cruel, fuelled by mankind’s basest instincts – greed, selfishness, disregard for other life and the compelling urge to possess.

There is a bit of good news to sweeten the pill. Some arrests.

But overall, the bad guys are winning. And Laos seems to be the latest incoming villain. I’ve been there, know it is corrupt, and yet I found the people I met decent. Their government clearly isn’t. Over to Dr. Thomas! Personally I’m tired of this whole business but Dr. Thomas has the guts to fight it out and I’ll do the same. So will my family. Makes me rather proud actually! Somewhere out there is a drug dealing scumbag with a barge load of extras. Little girls. Crates of very small ivory tusks. Rosewood. Crystal meth. The contents of another Mekong river junk raided with violence.

There he is, Growltiger, and half a world away there’s a young boy, named Robin heavily armed with a pencil and he’s going to write a letter telling Laos to behave itself and stop pirates and bandits. Robin’s quite small and his pencil is pencil-sized. But words can change the world. I’ve been using words for ages. I haven’t seen massive improvements, I admit that, but maybe I’ve made a tiny bit of difference here and there.

Robin will send his letter to Laos and in its small way will help stop piracy in the Mekong. Not bad for a young boy in Cumbria! Over to Dr. Thomas! Please read, then reach for a pencil (a pen might be better) and drop Laos a line!

Cheers from Bangkok!

Hugh

From: Richard Thomas [mailto:richard.thomas@traffic.org]
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2015 3:58 PM
To: Richard Thomas
Subject: Lao PDR’s role in wildlife trafficking revealed

Dear media professional, please find below a TRAFFIC media release concerning a number of significant international wildlife seizures made in 2014 in which Lao PDR was implicated as either source, transit or destination for the shipment. Regards, Richard

Wildlife seizures in 2014 highlight Lao PDR’s role in trafficking

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 6th January 2015—On 14th December 2014, French Customs officers discovered 170 baby Radiated Tortoises wrapped in sticky tape and hidden in the secret compartment of a crate transiting Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport en route to Lao PDR.

The Radiated Tortoise Astrochelys radiata is found only in Madagascar and is prized by collectors for the unique pattern on its shell, but all commercial international trade is banned under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The seizure was one of at least nine high-value international wildlife seizures made in 2014 where Lao PDR was implicated as the source, transit or destination country. Lao PDF itself reported no major wildlife seizures during the year.

Geographically positioned at the centre of the Greater Mekong region, Lao PDR shares borders with five other countries notorious for wildlife crime; Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

In 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted Lao’s “extreme vulnerability” to various forms of transnational organised crime, including the trafficking of wildlife.

Last month, CITES identified Lao PDR as one of three Parties of “importance to watch” over their role in the global ivory trade. Lao PDR has never reported an ivory seizure to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the database of global ivory and elephant product seizures managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to CITES since 1989.

In 2014, TRAFFIC identified Lao PDR as a major source of illegal wildlife products such as bear bile, to supply international demand.

“The composition of wildlife seizures implicating Lao PDR in 2014 highlights that the country is a major conduit for the trafficking of high value, and highly threatened wildlife,” said Sarah Stoner, Senior Wildlife Crime Analyst of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“Laos is clearly being exploited by organized crime groups for its strategic location and its lack of capacity to enforce national laws and CITES effectively.”

TRAFFIC is urging the authorities in Lao PDR to increase their vigilance, particularly at airports such as Wattay International and other points of entry and exit as part of the global efforts to address serious international wildlife trade.

Greater co-operation with neighbouring countries, such as Viet Nam and Thailand, to develop intelligence-led investigations is also essential to disrupt organized and transnational wildlife crime. TRAFFIC also believes collaboration with the wider CITES community is needed to ensure Lao PDR deters illegal wildlife trade, rather than enabling it.

ENDS

NOTES

During 2014, the following seizures all occurred outside of Lao PDR but implicated the country in some way. Together they illustrate the global trafficking routes being exploited for the transportation of illegally sourced African wildlife into the Asian marketplace, as well as trafficking of Asian species within the region.

1. Uganda – Dubai – Singapore – Lao PDR – Viet Nam

On 10th January, a Vietnamese national left Uganda for Viet Nam on a flight via Lao PDR, making transit stops in Dubai and Singapore where he was arrested and found to be in possession of 22kg Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis horns. He was later sentenced to 15 months in jail.

2. Angola – Dubai – Singapore – Lao PDR

On 14th January, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority seized luggage and arrested two Vietnamese men at Changi Airport for smuggling 13 pieces of elephant tusks, 16 pieces of ivory bangles and 109 pieces of ivory cubes. The bags arrived on a flight from Angola to Lao PDR via Dubai and Singapore. Investigations revealed that the two men were approached by an unknown Vietnamese man at a market in Angola who promised a payment of USD 1000 if the goods were successfully smuggled to Lao PDR. The two men were later sentenced to 16 months in prison.

3. Thailand – Lao PDR

On 24th January, park rangers in Thailand seized 214 baskets containing 30 Yellow-headed Temple Turtles Heosemys annandalii, eight Asiatic Soft-shell Turtles Amyda cartilagenea, 462 Monocled Cobras Naja kaouthia and 792 Indochinese Rat Snakes Ptyas korros. The consignment was seized from two Laotian and one Thai suspect.

4. Thailand – Lao PDR – Viet Nam / China

On 19th February, Thai police seized five Tiger cubs Panthera tigris, 312 monitor lizards, 174 tortoises and 11 soft-shell turtles being smuggled to neighbouring Lao PDR. News reports claimed the Tigers were to be kept in Lao PDR for a year before being sold on.

5. Rwanda – Middle East – India – Thailand -Viet Nam – Lao PDR

On 27th February, Thai Customs arrested traffickers who attempted to smuggle five rhino horns hidden inside sculptures from Rwanda while transiting through Bangkok. The consignment was destined for Lao PDR, but was routed through the Middle East, India, Thailand and Viet Nam.

6. Lao PDR – Viet Nam

On 8th June, border guards in Kon Tum Province, Viet Nam, apprehended a local man transporting nearly 15kg of ivory. The suspect claimed he had bought the ivory in Lao PDR and was “preparing to sell it” in Viet Nam.

7. Nigeria – France – Lao PDR

On 2nd July, French Customs at Roissy Airport, Paris searched eleven boxes of goods labelled “fish scales” from Nigeria where they found 250kg of pangolin scales, the equivalent of around 1000 individuals. Lao PDR was the intended destination.

8. Lao PDR – Viet Nam

On 27th November, Vietnamese authorities at the Lao Bao Border Gate in Quang Tri province found pangolins and reptiles hidden in the luggage hold of a bus. The bus driver admitted to being hired by an unknown person to transport the animals.

9. Madagascar – France – Lao PDR

On 14th December, French Customs officers discovered 170 Radiated Tortoises hidden in a crate transiting Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport en route to Lao PDR.

If you no longer to receive media releases from TRAFFIC, please reply to this message with the subject line: "REMOVE". Thank you, Richard

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