New study finds rhino horn openly for sale in notorious Myanmar wildlife markets


TRAFFIC Wildlife Trade news

Date Published

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Researchers from TRAFFIC, WWF and Oxford Brookes University have found evidence that rhinoceros horns are being openly offered for sale in Mong La, the notorious wildlife market situated in Myanmar on the border with China.

Surveys of Mong La’s markets in 2014 found a single rhino horn. In 2015, a second rhino horn, a single horn tip, small discs from the core of a horn, horn powder and horn bangles were observed, all openly for sale in high-end shops. The whole horns and horn tip were all believed to be from African White Rhinoceroses.

The shops selling horn also stocked a range of other protected wildlife, including whole elephant tusks, carved elephant ivory, carved hippopotamus teeth, and Tiger skins.

“The species on offer, including high-value species not native to Myanmar and several African species, suggest that organized criminal syndicates are involved in the wildlife trade between Myanmar and Africa, sometimes via China,” write the authors of the paper Rhinoceros horns in trade on the Myanmar–China border, published today in Oryx.

Mong La is known to cater mainly for Chinese tourists, with prices quoted in Chinese RMB and many transactions carried out in Chinese.

According to the paper, “Rhinoceros poaching in Africa is a direct result of increasing demand in Southeast and East Asian countries where cultural, historical, medicinal and more modern beliefs render rhinoceros horn a luxury good, an investment opportunity and a status symbol.”

Earlier surveys by the same researchers in 2006 and 2009 did not find horn for sale and the Chinese market for rhino horn appears to be growing. Chinese citizens have been increasingly implicated in rhino horn trafficking, with a number of arrests in both Africa and Asia.

“The growth in Chinese interest in rhino horn is a huge concern—it could generate levels of demand that would spell doom for the world’s rhinos,” said Dr Chris R Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and an author of the new study.

Both China and Myanmar are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), making any cross-border trade in rhinoceros horn illegal as all commercial international trade in rhinos is prohibited. The open display of the horns in Mong La illustrates the lack of concern for national laws prohibiting the trade, although the town lies in territory outside of the Central Government’s control.

“With no Myanmar Government presence currently in Mong La, in our view it is imperative that the Government of China intensifies its scrutiny and enforcement efforts at the Mong La–Daluo border crossing, making it a non-viable option for smugglers,” write the researchers.

Today, China announced the partial closure of its domestic ivory market: as the ivory ban becomes fully implemented, the significance of markets such as those in Mong La selling ivory, rhino horn and other threatened wildlife products is likely to increase, making the need for policing of nearby border crossings of paramount importance.