WWF-Myanmar sounds alarm about illegal wildlife trade


Myat Moe Aung, The Myanmar Times

Date Published

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Trafficking of wild animals continues to haunt Myanmar despite attempts to curb the crimes, and experts warn that the trend could damage animal populations if it goes unchecked.

WWF-Myanmar raised the alert over the intensified illegal wildlife trade in the country, which targets pangolins, bears and elephant skin. 

Cases are on the rise – 28 cases led to arrests in 2013 and 34 last year. So far this year, 24 cases have been reported through August, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Dr Sapai Min, project manager for illegal wildlife trade for WWF-Myanmar, warned about widespread illegal wildlife trading in the border towns of Tachileik and Mong La that mostly thrive on wildlife species found in the country.

“I had been to Tachileik and Mong La three or four times. I went to Mong La early this year. When I went there in 2015, there were 15 places selling wildlife products. This year, there are already 42 markets for the illegal wildlife trade. This could greatly damage wildlife in Myanmar,” she cautioned. 

WWF-Myanmar is seeking to minimise, if not completely eradicate, the illegal wildlife trading in Mong La  in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, as well as law enforcement agencies, such as the police and customs department.

Dr Sapai Min noted an increase in the demand for both elephant and tiger skins, as well as for pangolins and bears. 

“We can see as many as 20 pairs of hands of bears in Kyihteeyo Pagoda,” Dr Sapai Min said. “In the not so distant future bears will become rare and endangered species in the country.”

Mong La is a notorious place for illegal wildlife trading in Myanmar border with China and authorities have found it very difficult to control the illegal wildlife trade in the area.

WWF-Myanmar, in cooperation with some government department are trying to control the gates and have been conducting training for officers in these areas, especially  in Shan State, Mon State, Kayin State, Taninthari Region and the Kyihteeyo Pagoda area – which are considered a hotbed for the crime.

“Snakes and turtles remain the most widely commodified in the illegal wildlife trade but the number of pangolins and bears are fast catching up,” U Win Naing Thaw, director of the  Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation told The Myanmar Times. 

“We mainly want to control the Mong La market, which is notorious not only in Myanmar but also in the world. However, it is difficult to control,” said WWF-Myanmar’s Dr Sabai Min.

“We focus on controlling the Tachileik and Kyinetong (law enforcement areas) which are the entrances to Mong La. We conducted workshops about illegal wildlife trading in Tachileik and Kyinetong,” he said. 

A WWF-Myanmar survey in Kachin State’s Myitkyina, Puta-o and Lineza, Kayin State’s Myawaddy, Shan State’s Tachileik and Mong La in 2007 found the main markets for the illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar are with China and Thailand, with most of the trade being conducted in border areas.  

“For example, the amount of illegal wildlife trading is not much in downtown Myitkyina. We can see just a few bears’ gall bladders and hands, as well as monkeys’ head. The market is not very large in Mandalay. The large scale markets are in border areas as there is weak law enforcement in these areas,” said Dr Sabai Min.

“We can see armadillos and bears in the markets. But the most common illegal traded species are  tortoises and snakes,” U Win Naing Thaw.

It noted that while the country has a law – The Protection of Wildlife and Conservation of Natural Areas Law, (1994) – that provides protection for the forest and the wildlife, illegal activities continues due to weak enforcement.