Laos 'to phase out tiger farms'

Laos 'to phase out tiger farms'

JOHANNESBURG: Conservation groups say Laos has promised to phase out tiger farms, which could help to curb the illegal trade in the endangered animals' body parts and protect the depleted population of tigers in Asia.

The groups said Lao officials made the announcement in South Africa on Friday, one day before the start of a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

Tiger parts are used in traditional medicine in some Asian countries.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which works with Laos on tiger protection, is urging other Asian countries with commercial tiger breeding centers to close them.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency says Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese criminal networks are involved in tiger farming and trading.

While the decision on tiger farms appeared to be a positive step, the illegal trade in pangolins, helmeted hornbills and other wildlife products is still thriving in Laos, the monitoring group Traffic said on Friday.

The group urged the country to crack down on the lucrative commercial activity largely fuelled by demand in China.

Laos has long been top transit hub for the smuggling of wildlife products, with widespread corruption and weak law enforcement allowing the criminal activity to flourish, Traffic said.

Endangered species such as pangolins and helmeted hornbills were being openly sold in Laos and law enforcement against the illegal trade remained threadbare, it said.

"Laos clearly needs to address these issues as a matter of urgency or risk becoming dubbed the wildlife smuggling capital of Asia," said Kanitha Krishnasamy, the Southeast Asia senior programme officer for Traffic.

Elusive and scaly ant-eating pangolins are critically endangered and ranked as the most trafficked mammal on Earth with more than a million traded in the past decade, according to conservation groups.

They are sought after in China and other parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales.

The meat is considered a delicacy while the skin and scales are used in traditional medicine and to make fashion items like boots and shoes.

Traffic researchers said they found thousands of scales for sale in northern Laos during a survey earlier this year and that some 5,600 pangolins linked to Laos have been seized between 2010 and 2015.

Many of those animals were smuggled in from Thailand and taken into China or Vietnam.

Many shops selling animal parts were operated or staffed by ethnic Chinese employees and prices were often listed in yuan or dollars, the group said.

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