Record Wildlife Contraband Seized in Vietnam

6 February 2009

Hanoi authorities have made their largest-ever seizure of illegally-harvested wildlife products. After detaining a man found transporting a set of tiger bones and 10 kilograms of serow - a small antelope-like mammal found in Asia - bones and horns by motorbike, investigators were led to a stockpile of some two tonnes of tiger bones, bear paws and gall bladders, and heaps of bones from various other increasingly rare wild animals. Three people have been arrested in connection to the incident.

"We continue to be impressed and encouraged by the good work that the Environmental Police are doing," says Nguyen Dao Ngoc Van of international wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC. "The presence of the Environmental Police in Vietnam will change illegal wildlife trade for the better."

Van concedes that this case underscores the threat of illegal trade to Vietnam's endangered wildlife. But he points out that a recent string of seizures shows improvements in enforcement capacity since the establishment of the Environmental Police in 2007.

TRAFFIC estimates that up to 4,000 tonnes of live animals, meats, skins, ground bones, and other animal products are trafficked into and out of Vietnam each year, generating about 67 million dollars in sales.  Authorities say that the sheer volume of trade - an estimated 2,500 kilograms per day - and creativity of smugglers - one investigation turned up a bear dressed as a patient in the back of an ambulance - can make enforcement difficult.

Vietnam's wildlife habitat, previously shut off from the world by war and politics, has been described by some biologists as home to some of the greatest wildlife discoveries over the last decade. Since 1992 researchers have documented 63 vertebrates, 45 previously unknown fish, and discovered the saola - the world's largest mammal found in over half a century.

Studies say that illegal trade in wildlife products rivals habitat loss in the threat of extinction to many species.  Eric Coull of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that wildlife populations in Vietnam in particular are decreasing at alarming rates. "Vietnam has become famous over the past 15 years for the discovery of new species," says Coull. "It could become famous for their extinction."

"Vietnam becoming Asia's illegal animal, 'Supermarket'" MARYANN MOTT (National Geographic) 13 September 2006; "Illegal wildlife trade takes heavy toll in Vietnam," FRANK ZELLER (Yahoo News), 14 August 2006; "Hanoi Environmental Police seize tons of illegal wildlife parts," ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS SERVICE, 21 January 2009; Hanoi's Environmental Police record largest-ever seizure, LISA KELLEY (TRAFFIC), 19 January 2009

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