Illegal wildlife trade
Silencing the jungles of the Greater Mekong
Elsewhere, greater affluence in rapidly developing areas has led to increased demand and purchasing power for wildlife products. Most major taxonomic groups of plants and animals found are traded, both within and outside the region, particularly timber, reptile skins, plant extracts and live birds. As a result of high levels of wildlife consumerism, unsustainable rates of harvesting are threatening species that were once plentiful and bringing already endangered species closer to extinction. Major markets supplying illegal products still operate openly in many countries.
There are many reasons why wildlife is traded in the countries of the Greater Mekong region, including:
- food—fruits, mushrooms, nuts, leaves and tubers, are particular important resources in sustaining livelihoods in many rural areas
- fuel—trees and plants are an important source of fuel for cooking and heating, especially in rural areas
- building materials—for example, timber for furniture and housing to ingredients in manufacturing processes. Merbau, for example, is a tropical hardwood found in much of Southeast Asia that is popular for flooring in the Europe.
- clothing and ornaments—leather, furs, feathers etc. Ramin is another tropical hardwood that is often used for decorative products such as picture frames.
- healthcare—everything from herbal remedies, traditional medicines to ingredients for industrial pharmaceuticals.
- religion—many animals and plants or derivatives are used for religious purposes
- collections—many wildlife specimens and curios are collected by museums and private individuals
This trade is causing overexploitation of Greater Mekong’s biodiversity, to the point where the survival of some species hang in the balance. The rapid population decrease of species such as the tiger, Javan rhino and Asian elephants are examples of the enormous impact the illegal wildlife trade can have.