By Scott Roberton
Stashed in the hidden compartments of container trucks, or concealed among waste plastic, seafood, and other products, live animals and animal parts traverse the globe. The cargo that gets unloaded into rickety boats on the Vietnam side of the Ka Long River includes wild tigers, elephant tusks, pangolins, rhino horns, and wild turtles. These threatened species, many still tenuously alive, don't have far to float—just ten meters across the river and into China to satisfy one of the world's largest demand markets for wildlife products.
I have seen this firsthand. In collaboration with local partners, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Vietnam program conducted hundreds of hours of surveys of trade in all products along the Ka Long River in Mong Cai City between October 2011 and January 2012. Our analysis found that over 90 percent of all products (both legal and illegal) traded in Mong Cai between Vietnam and China are passing through illegal crossings. In just those three months we witnessed close to 17,000 vehicles making nearly 34,000 shipments to and from China.
We discovered that the most commonly smuggled animals are pangolins (live, frozen, and de-scaled), freshwater hard-shell and soft-shell turtles, snakes (cobra, rat snakes, python), elephant ivory, crocodiles, civets, bears (live and paws), macaques, tokay geckos, rhino horn, and a number of bird species. The list includes a number of species that are protected nationally (in China and Vietnam) and those that are prohibited from international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Some are also considered Endangered and Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
Our Ka Long River data and other surveys have revealed a depressing conclusion—the trade in wildlife in Vietnam is vast and is driving species to extinction. More....