Viet Nam and all Greater Mekong countries must close illegal wildlife markets: Hanoi conference is perfect place to start
One of the world’s major wildlife trafficking hubs, Viet Nam conducted its first destruction of seized ivory and rhino horn on Saturday but it has made little effort so far to shut down its illegal wildlife markets or target major traders and smugglers of illicit wildlife products. The other countries in the Greater Mekong region – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand – have also failed to close their illegal wildlife markets, which openly sell body parts from hundreds of threatened species.
All of them will be in the spotlight at the high-level Hanoi Conference, when representatives from 54 nations will meet to review their progress toward commitments to tackle wildlife crime made at the London Conference in 2014 and the Kasane Conference in 2015.
“Viet Nam can no longer turn a blind eye to wildlife crime because the world is watching: the government must use this conference to signal a new start by announcing concrete plans to end the rhino horn and ivory trade and close all tiger farms,” said Thinh Van Ngoc, WWF Vietnam Country Director. “The destruction event was a step in the right direction, but Viet Nam should use this conference to launch a concerted campaign against wildlife crime and other countries in the Greater Mekong region should follow suit – starting with a clear commitment to close their notorious illegal wildlife markets, particularly in the Golden Triangle.”
Last month, because of its role as the main destination country for trafficked rhino horn, Viet Nam was given an ultimatum by governments from across the world to tackle rhino horn trade or face the threat of trade sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This week it came under pressure to act from a coalition of local organisations as well as 170,000 people who signed a global WWF petition.
Highlighting its growing role in the illegal ivory trade, Viet Nam seized five major shipments in October totalling over 4.5 tonnes. However, the country has still not reported a single prosecution of an ivory or rhino horn trafficker.
“While seizing this huge haul of ivory shows that some law enforcement efforts are bearing fruit, it also demonstrates that Viet Nam’s weak laws and poor prosecution record are encouraging organised crime syndicates to traffic large amounts of illegal wildlife products through the country,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Senior Programme Manager with TRAFFIC, based in Southeast Asia. “Enforcement is one part of the solution: At the Hanoi conference, end-user countries must also demonstrate what actions they have undertaken as part of their international commitments to shut down the demand that is fuelling wildlife crime.”
Despite growing international momentum to tackle wildlife crime, the global poaching crisis and surge in illegal wildlife trade show few signs of abating – largely because many countries are not living up to their commitments. At least 1,377 rhinos and around 20,000 elephants were poached in Africa last year. Pangolins continue to be trafficked out of South-east Asia and Africa in vast numbers, while India has lost 76 tigers to poaching this year – the highest number since 2010.
Along with providing updates on their progress since the series of international illegal wildlife trade conferences began in 2014, governments participating in Hanoi will also announce specific, time-bound actions to help fulfil their commitments and strengthen the global response to wildlife crime.
In particular, WWF and TRAFFIC will be calling on governments to close domestic ivory markets and illegal wildlife markets, and phase out tiger farms, while also taking concrete steps to tackle corruption, strengthen enforcement, improve legislation and increase information exchange between enforcement agencies regionally and globally.
Furthermore, governments should commit to implementing key outcomes of the CITES conference in October, including the closure of domestic ivory markets, ban on trade in pangolins and grey parrots, resolution on demand reduction and the agreement to strengthen the National Ivory Action Plan process, which is central to efforts to halt the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching crisis.
“It is time for countries to take measurable and meaningful actions to reduce poaching, trafficking and demand or we risk losing many of the world’s endangered species,” said Colman O Criodain, WWF Head of Delegation to the Hanoi Conference. “The Hanoi conference is a perfect opportunity for Viet Nam to show real leadership and send a clear signal to criminal networks across the Mekong region and internationally that the world is genuinely cracking down on wildlife crime.”
The London Conference in 2014 saw 41 countries and the European Union approve the 25-point London Declaration, which included action to eradicate markets, strengthen law enforcement efforts, implement effective legal frameworks, and promote sustainable livelihoods and economic development through engaging with local communities.
Last year, 32 countries and the EU built on the commitments made in London at the Kasane Conference in Botswana, by adopting a number of additional measures, including focusing on tackling money laundering and other financial aspects of wildlife crime. Participants also agreed to engage further with the private sector, including logistics and transport companies to help stem the flow of illicit wildlife products.