Posted on 30 January 2015
There is a poaching crisis in Asia driven by the unrelenting demand for illegal wildlife products. As Nepal prepares to host an unprecedented Zero Poaching in Asia Symposium aimed at tackling this crisis, WWF puts a spotlight on 10 lesser known Asian species, each representing a much larger group, which are being poached to supply this multi-billion dollar black market.
10 Asian Species Poached for Wildlife Crime
There is a poaching crisis in Asia driven by the unrelenting demand for illegal wildlife products. In many countries, wildlife crime remains a low-risk, high-profit venture and it’s not just tigers, elephants and rhinos being slaughtered.
As Nepal prepares to host an unprecedented Zero Poaching in Asia Symposium aimed at tackling this crisis, WWF puts a spotlight on 10 lesser known Asian species, each representing a much larger group, which are being poached to supply this multi-billion dollar black market. Three on our list are critically endangered. Four are prohibited from international commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
WWF is urging governments to commit to Zero Poaching by:
- Assessing anti-poaching efforts on the ground
- Adopting a new tools and technologies
- Investing in capacity building for rangers
- Strengthening prosecution processes
- Involving local communities
- Building national and regional cooperation
Poaching is an organised, professional business. To stop it, anti-poaching must be the same.
10 Asian Species Poached for Wildlife Crime
The Big Three
- Siberian musk deer (Moschus moshiferus)
All male musk deer are highly sought after for their musk pod, a scent gland, which is used in the perfume trade and for traditional medicines. Each male produces only around 25g of musk and although it can be extracted from live animals, most “musk-gatherers” kill the animals to remove the entire sac. An estimated 25,000 adult male Siberian musk deers were killed between 1990 and 2001. As hunting is often indiscriminate of sex and age, four to five musk deer are estimated to be killed per one musk-pod harvested. Musk deer populations from Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are listed in CITES Appendix I, which pans international commercial trade.
- Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)
The gall bladders of all bears are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine. While bile is milked from commercially-farmed bears, bears are routinely removed from the wild to stock or restock these small commercial farms. Bear meat, particularly the paws, is considered a culinary delicacy. Killing bears is illegal in all bear range countries but is largely uncontrolled. The species is extinct in Singapore and has possibly become extinct more recently in Bangladesh and China. Sun bears are listed in CITES Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade.
- Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)
The Sunda pangolin is critically endangered and IUCN reports that wild populations have halved in the past 15 years. Pangolins are among the most trafficked mammals in Asia. They are in high demand both for their meat and their scales, which are used in traditional medicine – and as love charms. Tens of thousands of Sunda pangolins have been poached from the wild, headed primarily to China where it is considered a luxury food. Listed in CITES Appendix I, there is a zero annual export quota for this species removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes.
- Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)
Since 2009, demand for tokay geckos was reported to have sky-rocketed following rumors that extracts from the lizard could cure HIV/AIDS, a claim refuted by the World Health Organization (WHO). A TRAFFIC reort found that millions of tokay geckos are being taken from the wild to supply the traditional medicine trade in East Asia. In 2011 a shipment of 6.75 tonnes (an estimated 1.2 million individuals) of dried tokay geckos, illegally harvested in Java, was intercepted en route to Hong Kong. The species is not listed under CITES.
- Gold of Kinabalu orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum)
This orchid species is found only on Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Admired for its beauty, rare orchids can fetch huge sums of money. After its discovery in 1987, this slipper orchid was stripped from the wild by smugglers bringing it close to extinction. Traders scour the globe for their new species of orchids, sometimes removing whole populations of plants before anyone else knows their existence. This orchid is listed as CITES Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade.
- Thailand rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinesis)
Rosewood is a highly sought after timber species, used in premium furniture, carvings, wood turnery, fine-art articles, musical instruments and sewing machines. The root, bark and sap is often used in traditional medicine. Rosewood has disappeared from most of its habitat. The species has a slow growth rate and natural regeneration is often poor. The last remaining stronghold is found in a protected area in Thailand. Rosewood is listed as a CITES Appendix II species, which allows for international commercial trade under strict regulations.
- Burmese python (Python bivittatus)
Pythons are among the most heavily traded species in South-East Asia with approximately 340,000 skins exported annually for use in the fashion industry. Although more than 20 percent of exports are declared as captive-bred, a TRAFFIC report argues that the cost of breeding, feeing and maintaining the snakes to reach slaughter size appears much higher than the market price. A skin sold in an Indonesian village for $30 can fetch up to $15,000 as a python skin handbag from a famous fashion house. Pythons are listed as CITES Appendix II species, which allows for international commercial trade under strict regulations.
- Burmese start tortoise (Geochelone platynota)
This critically endangered species is in high demand for meat and traditional medicines in Asia. It is also highly sought after for the international pet trade with collectors in Europe and North America willing to pay thousands of dollars for an individual. Found only in Myanmar, the species appears to be extremely depleted in the wild. There are concerns that there may now be no viable wild populations. Commercial harvest and trade of this species is illegal under Myanmar law although export of captive specimens is permitted from one facility within the country, which also contributes to a future release program. It is listed in CITES Appendix II, which allows for international commercial trade under strict regulations.
- Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus)
Ranking high on the cute-and-cuddly scale, slow lorises have long been in demand as exotic pets. Today, severe and persisten poaching of the critically endangered Javan slow loris from the wild has resulted in a dramatic population decline of at least 80 percent over the past few decades. The only venomous primates found in nature, poachers cut or remove their teeth, a process that almost invariably leads to the animal’s death. This species is protected by Indonesian law and is listed in CITES Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade.
- Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)
This species is endemic to Borneo, found in Brunei, Indonesia (Kalimantan) and Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). The proboscis monkey is poached, not only for the illegal pet trade and bush meat but is also hunted for bezoar stones, an intestinal secretion, used in traditional medicine. In Sarawak, less than 1,000 animals are thought to remain in patchily distributed populations in Borneo ranging between 1,00 and just 100. The IUCN have listed the species as Endangered and is listed on CITES Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade.
Poaching is the greatest immediate threat to this endangered species, of which there are as few as 3,200 in the wild. According to TRAFFIC, parts from a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized between January 2000 and April 2014 – an average of two animals per week. Every part of the tiger – from whisker to tail – is traded on the black market. Tigers are mounted as trophies, skins worn as status symbols, and their parts used in traditional medicine, as tonics and folk remedies.
There are fewer than 4,000 wild rhinos in Asia. All three Asian species are highly targeted for their horns. Two, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered. The animals are killed and their horns sawn off and smuggled to their destination markets in Asia. Viet Nam is a main destination for rhino horn, where the ground up horn is mainly used as a recreational health tonic. International crime syndicates are also targeting museums and other sites where rhino horn is stored.
Only one elephant species, the Asian elephant, lives in Asia. Elephants, including those living in Africa, are killed by poachers for their ivory, which is smuggled to Asia to be carved into jewellery and other decorative items. Prior to 2009, an average of five and never more than seven large scale (>500 kg) elephant ivory seizures occurred worldwide each year. Since 2009 and average of 15, and as many as 21 such seizures, have taken place each year, according to the Elephant Trade Information System, which is managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of parties to CITES. The illegal trade in live elephants, ivory and hides across the Thai-Myanmar border has become a serious conservation issue.