By Rhett A. Butler [An earlier, shorter version of this article can be found here.\
Deep in the rugged mountains of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NEPL) on the Laos–Vietnam border, men smoke cigarettes and talk in hushed voices as they tramp through the forest. Approaching a baited trap, they hear the frantic snarls of an ensnared tiger. The tiger hangs by its front foot, suspended by a cable attached to a tree. The men shoot and make quick work of the tiger, removing its bones but leaving some of its carcass, including parts of its pelt, behind. The real money is no longer in tiger skins, but bones: the 10 to 12 kilograms of bone harvested from the adult tiger will yield $12,000-$15,000 in a region where per capita income is around $400 a year. Though the authorities are able to trace the weapon shells back to their village and locals know of the hunters' haul, two years later the evidence has not been enough to hold the men accountable for their crimes.
Twenty five years ago there were hundreds of tigers in Laos. Today there are probably fewer than 50. Their decline is a symptom of a broader trend that is consuming wildlife around the planet—the rise of market-driven hunting and cross-border trade in wildlife products.
Every year tens of millions of wild birds, mammals, and reptiles are killed to supply multi-billion dollar markets in China, the United States, and Europe. A still greater number are taken for local and domestic markets.
The reasons for the rise of commercial hunting are not complex—growing affluence among consumers, an increase in international trade, the emergence of increasingly sophisticated smuggling networks, an influx in weapons and technology, and easier access to wilderness areas facilitated by extractive industries all drive overexploitation of wildlife. But addressing the trade in a fair, yet effective, manner is challenging.
Wildlife depletion in Laos
By most measures, Laos ranks as a low-income country, yet its people are generally able to feed themselves due to abundant natural resources, including fish, game, and food and fodder for livestock. More....