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Rare Animal Trade Thrives in Vietnam

Each year in Vietnam, nearly 3,300 tons of illegal live wildlife and animal products are shipped in and out of the country. Although trading exotic wildlife is technically illegal, the practice persists because demand and profitability remain high. A new report by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that the trade is a $6 billion-dollar-a-year industry worldwide. A single bear can bring in $3,000 dollars.

An animal is also often sold for its parts and used for a variety of purposes, such as exotic cuisine, souvenirs, and medicine. Some of the animals are sold to wealthy Vietnamese, while others are exported abroad to China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Many people enjoy the exotic meat, but for others it’s simply about the implied status of procuring unusual animals.

Clearly, the major concern with this type of trade is that it endangers populations of rare animals. Eric Coull of the World Wildlife Fund (WFF) Mekong, said that overexploitation of wildlife products for both legal and illegal trade is the biggest threat to many species.

In addition to endangering the animals, the practice can transmit infectious diseases; in fact, some believe the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 originated with so-called “bush meat.” The catlike civet was linked to the SARS outbreak in the southeast of China, where many illegal wildlife are shipped.

The exotic wildlife trade is certainly not exclusive to Vietnam, nor is it a new trade. Animal exporting has long been a part of African business, and many products are sent to wealthy Europeans and Americans. The trade is also spreading to other Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia as high demand and dwindling animal populations in Vietnam have led traders to look elsewhere.

Some efforts have been made to reduce animal poaching. For instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network is a network made up of police, customs, and environmental authorities aimed at regulating the wildlife trade. Also, in 1994, Vietnam became a signatory to CITES, an international endangered species convention, but wildlife groups continue to criticize the country for its lack of enforcement.

In Vietnam, the bottom line is enforcement agencies are severely understaffed and under- funded. Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi Agricultural University conducted research on the trade and found that the estimated profit of the illegal wildlife trade was 30 times larger than state spending to combat it. Moreover, although hunting without a permit was banned in 1975, it’s not difficult to forge permits and smuggle animals.

Online sales have also added a new dimension to the trade and help keep the business thriving. A one-week period under study showed more than 9,000 animal specimens for sale online, predominantly illegal wildlife. The consensus among experts on the trade is that the killing and selling of rare animals won’t end until demand does.

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