By Graham Land
From ivory and rhino horn to bear and tiger farms to shark fins and manta ray gill plates, Asian countries have a lot to answer for when it comes to animal cruelty and the systematic destruction of vulnerable species.
The economic growth of certain segments of society in several Asian nations is fueling a boom in what was once the exclusive domain of a financial elite. This new wealth is facilitating a mass marketization of products that are either ostentatious status symbols such as tiger skin rugs and ivory trinkets alongside desperate and/or misinformed attempts at healthcare.
The fact that ancient folk medicine in one corner of the world has become the driving force in the extinction of megafauna on a separate continent is as maddening as it is baffling. Yet this is what happens when the pursuit of wealth takes precedence over real efforts to improve quality of life through education and the sustainable management of resources. Whether we’re talking about the legal farming of endangered species like tigers and sun bears, for the purported (but easily discredited) medicinal effects of their bones, gall bladders and penises or the South African policies which still allow for trophy hunting, what is strictly legal or illegal is not always the issue.
A Chinese hunter can shoot rhinoceros in South Africa, legally bring their horns back to China as trophies and then easily sell them on the black market. Similarly, the legal farming of tigers in China and elephants in Thailand clouds the trade in parts from poached animals. These loopholes not only confuse consumers (or provide them with convenient excuses), but they make the policing of poachers, smugglers and dealers that much more difficult.
Of the recently named “gang of eight” nations singled out at the CITES meetings in Bangkok, five are in Asia: Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and Thailand. The gang of eight are the main players in the illegal international ivory trade, with the remaining being African source nations: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The Asian players are divided into the main countries where ivory is laundered and smuggled – Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines – and the principle end buyers – China and Thailand. More....