Conservation of tiger glue?Tiger conservation efforts end up in glue pots
On November 19, 2010, the Thanh Hoa People’s Committee issued document number 6414/UBND-NN allowing a provincial government department to auction off 2.77kg of tiger glue. An ENV investigation found that the glue fetched 50 million VND/kg at the sale.
The decision shocked the conservation community and raised a very big question: who is protecting Vietnam’s endangered wildlife when it can end up in government sanctioned glue pots despite tireless efforts by some to protect it? Relevant authorities are tasked with protecting wildlife and laws are designed to serve this purpose. We can blame the law and its loopholes, but that merely deflects attention from the fact that Thanh Hoa authorities lack the will to protect our wildlife. The authorities made a great effort to uncover wildlife trade violations and confiscate the evidence that might have been sold on the black market without their intervention. But the wildlife was confiscated, only to be auctioned off back into the trade. In this instance, the authorities’ role in the trade flow can be likened to the role of a middleman in the illegal trade, except that the wildlife became ’legal‘ as it passed through the authorities. The trade chain was interrupted, but not severed.
Some experts argue that by supplying the market with wildlife either legal or illegal in origin we increase demand by making the products readily available to consumers. In this case, tiger products were more accessible to consumers and considered ‘legal‘ because they were made so by wildlife protection authorities.
If wildlife continues be viewed as an economic commodity in the eyes of many provincial-level decision-makers, and the endangered status of the confiscated species rarely has an impact on critical decisions regarding the fate of the animal, somehow our focus on enforcing the law for the purpose of “protecting wildlife” has been lost.
In Vietnam, tiger farming is still in its early stages. Possession and sale of tigers and their parts is illegal. However the demand for tiger products in Vietnam may be on the rise as the economy continues to grow and consumers turn toward expensive foods and medicines that were formerly beyond the reach of most people.
“Our opportunity to do something about this is here and now,” states Le Minh Thi, ENV’s Program Manager. “While everyone looks at China, the tiger trade here in Vietnam may be on the verge of a boom.” Thi warns that Vietnam could become the next largest consumer state after China for illegal wildlife.
A Vietnamese delegation has just returned from the Tiger Summit held in Russia from November 21-24 with a strong commitment to protecting the species, and governments from 13 countries are committed to the global tiger recovery program. In the meantime, Thanh Hoa provincial authorities have allowed confiscated tiger products to be auctioned off and put back into the trade.
“This may be our only chance to prevent Vietnam from turning into a major tiger consumer state. The Vietnamese government must take a serious stand to prevent this looming disaster for tigers not just in Vietnam, but for tigers throughout the region, which might just as easily end up in a Vietnamese boiling pot as they could a Chinese one. Thanh Hoa authorities must recognize their responsibilities to the protection of tigers and act responsibly. The people expect nothing else from the authorities tasked with wildlife protection,” Thi states.
Concerns over the two frozen tigers at the Nguyen Mau Chien Farm in Thanh Hoa still abound as we await a solution from authorities. The tigers were raised at the farm and found dead in August 2010. ENV has been in constant contact with Thanh Hoa provincial authorities to suggest ways to deal with the frozen tigers. The most reasonable solution is to transfer the tigers to a scientific establishment which has the legal and technical capabilities to receive wildlife, or destroy the remains in accordance with the law. Nghe An province has been setting a good example recently by transferring confiscated wildlife, including tigers, to the Vietnam National Museum for Nature.