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HindustanTimes Thu,27 Nov 2014

Prosperous east Asia fuelling global wildlife smuggling market

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, May 15, 2012
First Published: 19:46 IST(15/5/2012) | Last Updated: 19:49 IST(15/5/2012)

The perishing wildlife in India and Africa has got a new cash rich market -- east Asia.

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In the last on year, over 600 rhinos were killed in South Africa, about 132 leopards in India and thousands of turtles smuggled out of south Asia to a splurging illegal wildlife market in spread across Thailand, Hongkong, Vietnam and Singapore. 

Kesav Varma, programme director of World Bank supported Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) caused alarm among wildlife experts from across the world on Wednesday when he announced that helicopter-laden hunters have killed over 600 rhinos for their horns in South Africa in less than a year. 

A helicopter rent is about $10,000 but the poachers make over a million US dollars by extracting horns from a few rhinos in just couple of hours.

"Even the South African Army has expressed its helplessness to deal with the alarming situation," he said.

A glimpse of the situation was seizure of wildlife body parts worth $ 2.2 million by Hong Kong customs officials in last November from a container shipped from Cape Town, South Africa.

Officials in China, Vietnam and Thailand seized hundreds of elephant tusks in separate incidents and another big haul were found in Malaysia, considered a major transit hub for illegally wildlife body parts.

What has shocked wildlife enforcement agencies is that a vast majority of customers are young and upward mobile east Asians.

"They (youngster) are willing to pay exorbitant price for rhino or ivory tusk jewels. So-called tiger meat sold discreetly in Thailand is very popular," said a senior executive of an international NGO, who was not willing to be quoted on the issue.

The market for wildlife body is expanding.

"The trade has grown because not only people have got more cash but the transport infrastructure has got much better," said James Compton, senior director for Asia-Pacific at Traffic, an international organisation that monitors wildlife trade.

Illegal wildlife trade is now third largest global illegal activity after drugs and human trafficking and amasses a billion US dollars annually.

As the trade rise, the several national have expressed inability to deal with the situation and wants the trade to be legalised.

South Africa is proposing trade in rhino body parts to be legalised and Vietnam government is considering a proposal to allow use of body parts of dead tigers for medicinal purpose. China has been demanding use of body parts of tigers in farms to be used for medicinal purpose.

With demand rising and pressure mounting, saving tigers would be a challenge.


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