The first part: Female traders

Date: 10th May, 2010

Many cases concerning the illegal transportation and trade of pangolins have occurred in Ha Tinh and other regions along the 1A National Highway. By infiltrating and following a pangolin trade route, the author discovered some of the sophisticated smuggling methods used by traders in order to evade authorities.

Pangolin trade: Women only
Huge quantities of pangolins have been smuggled from Laos into Vietnam through the Cau Treo border gate in, Ha Tinh province and the traders are almost exclusively female.

With the assistance of a local friend in Tay Son town (Huong Son), I stood a good chance of meeting the major traders. Pangolins are often gathered in the main trader’s home, then divided and sold to different buyers.

My friend took me to the home of the biggest pangolin trader in town, a woman by the name of Thanh. It was the most beautiful house in town, expensively decorated with stone pictures and mounted animals, including pangolins. Thanh is often referred to as a “female baron” and is young, attractive and easy to talk to. She was not as cold or intimidating as I had imagined she would be. Huong asked her if we could buy some injured or dead pangolins for food and their scales, Thanh replied that she was a wholesaler, but did not have any available at the time. She asked if we could return in the afternoon and introduce us to another trader. According to Thanh, there are more than ten female pangolin traders in the relatively small town, and that pangolin trading was only appropriate for women. All traders in the region, both big and small, are female. They are the rich, powerful and run the entire operation.

Pangolin smuggling across the border is routine
At the border gate, we entered a small shop near the market and met Tu, hired by Thanh preparing to collect a load of pangolins from Laos. Tu was in control of ten porters. Tu agreed for us to accompany her across the border through the forest, but warned us to be careful and avoid detection by the border guards.

The crossing was relatively easy with Tu as a guide. When we arrived in Laos, we were on a hill and were able to see a truck waiting at a secret location near the Nam Tuong Bridge. Tu talked with the driver of the truck while the porters worked skillfully as they packaged the pangolins. According to Tu, the load did not weigh very much, only around two tons. In the past, she often collected 3-5 tons of pangolins, but loads that big were not as common anymore. Re-entry into Vietnam was different and Tu explained that there are many ways to cross the border. It was obvious that the tracks were well used. The longest route across the border is about 22 km, down to the center of a commune in Huong The shortest is the locally known Am track. The safest route is through Nha Bang as it is the easiest to transport goods along.

Our group stopped near the 8A National Highway to wait for Tu to call for transportation. When a small truck appeared, the porters quickly loaded the pangolins on board. A few minutes later, the truck disappeared. Back in the shop, Tu told me she could earn about 10 million VND per month. There are many people doing the same job as Tu, but for other traders.

Translated by Pham Linh Chi on May 19th 2010; Edited by Simone Nance on May 21st 2010
Please note:  Translated by Education for Nature – Vietnam.  This translation is unofficial in nature.  The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV.

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