BANGKOK — Despite a continued crackdown on perpetrators, Southeast Asia is becoming an even more prominent hub of illegal wildlife and timber trade, a UN report released earlier this month revealed.
The region connects illegal trade supply chains across African and East Asian markets, according to the report, “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact,” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Major seizures of illicit wildlife in Southeast Asia and China between Jan. and May this year include: 12.7 tons of pangolin scales and 180 kilograms of carved ivory worth USD$38.7 million from Vietnam seized in Singapore; 9.1 tons of ivory from Africa seized in Vietnam; 24 pieces of rhino horn weighing 40 kilograms worth USD$1 million seized in Hong Kong; and 30 tons of pangolins seized in Malaysia.
As infrastructure development in the region accelerates, the movement of goods within the region and previously remote areas has become more accessible. Two other important drivers of the illicit wildlife market in Asia are the growth of a high-income class that values the display of wildlife products as status symbols, and beliefs in the medicinal value of wildlife products.
The report estimates, for example, that international trade has seen more than one million pangolins killed in the past decade.
“The international trade is driven by the demand for their scales for use in traditional medicines and for the luxury consumption of their meat, primarily in China and Vietnam,” reads the report.
Police seize 76 trafficked pangolins in March 2019 at Prachuap Khiri Khan.
As for illegal timber trade, the report found most illegal trade in Southeast Asia continues to be conducted alongside the legal trade. Formal business enterprises operate through fraudulent or corrupt methods to conceal the illicit origins of products.
“Corruption is a key facilitator of illegal wildlife and timber trades. Bribery and document fraud are commonly used to conceal the contents and origins of cargo, allowing wildlife and timber to be moved with relative ease,” the report said.
Southeast Asia’s proximity to China, which has a voracious appetite for rosewood, has led rosewood to become the world’s most trafficked timber species. Siamese rosewood (dalbergia cochinchinensis) or payung in Thai, which is found in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, is prized in China for making luxury furniture. Burmese rosewood (dalbergia oliveri/bariensis) or pradu in Thai is also increasingly in demand.
The report estimates that up to 50 park rangers were murdered, with roughly an equal number seriously injured, in Thailand from 2009 to 2016 as a result of confrontation with illegal loggers.