Asia’s sinister tiger trade
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Asia’s sinister tiger trade

On Friday afternoon a man smuggling 16 tiger cubs was arrested in Thailand near the border with Laos. The cubs, ranging in age from six weeks to two months, were discovered in small plastic crates inside the 52-year-old’s truck.

According to the Thai police, the man was paid the equivalent of US$500 to deliver the tigers from Bangkok to their buyers, who he claimed to not know the identity of.

Though earlier this year the countries where tigers still reside agreed to tighten controls in order to prevent smuggling, Thailand remains a center for their illegal trade. Tiger body parts, including canine teeth, claws, skin pieces, whiskers, bones and even penises are sold as expensive, albeit useless, folk medicines in many Asians countries. Tiger parts are also sold as souvenirs and used in making jewelry.

From Agence France-Presse:

Thailand, a hub of international smuggling, is one of just 13 countries hosting fragile tiger populations. Worldwide, numbers are estimated to have fallen to only 3,200 tigers from approximately 100,000 a century ago.

After their seizure, the cubs were put in the care of Thai wildlife officials.

For more information, including videos of the rescued cubs, see this BBC News report and Guardian video.

Recently a group of undercover reporters for the Tuoi Tre daily, Vietnam’s largest newspaper, investigated illegal tiger farms in the central province of Nghe An. What they found was shocking.

One reporter posed as a customer seeking tiger bone paste. He was given price quotes ranging from $720 to $1008 USD per ounce. Cubs are usually bought for around $17,000-18,000 and then raised for a year or so in cramped, dirty cages. A 200 kilo tiger can fetch a lot of money at $2,400 per kilo on the black market.

Though local police do make arrests, they are sometimes bribed when tiger farmers have that kind of money to pay them off with.

Since tiger farming is an illegal and covert business, tigers are kept inside houses, often in attics or dark rooms. This also makes them difficult for authorities to find.

The problem is that many houses in the area are closed so it is difficult for us to find signs of tiger farms. I think illegal farming will only be uncovered if local police and environment and economic police from the provincial public security department work together.

–Nguyen Trong Thuc, chief of the Forest Management Unit in Yen Thanh

Read the entire first instalment of the two part report in Tuoi Tre.

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rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, Laos, pic: Mikhail Esteves (Flickr CC)