Tiger trading - big profits - little punishment

Date: June 5, 2009

Leniency shown to  tiger traders and tiger farm owners has diminished the role of law as a tool to punish crimes, and hampered the effect of law enforcement in ending illegal tiger trade.

On May 26, 2010, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) organized a workshop announcing the results of tiger trade monitoring in Vietnam, as well outlining the current situation and presenting solutions to the tiger trade issue. Participating in the workshop were representatives from the Environmental Police and the Forest Protection Department (FPD) from some of the tiger trade hot-spots in Vietnam: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Quang Ninh, Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, and Binh Duong. Discussions showed there are many difficulties preventing an end to the trade of tigers.

There is still a deep-rooted belief in the effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in modern Vietnamese culture. Many Vietnamese continue to trust the effects of products made from wild animals, believing that the part of the animal eaten benefits the human counterpart. The stronger and rarer the animal, is the more effective it will be. Tigers are one of the strongest animals in the wild, so its glue-producing bone, claws, skin, teeth and even penis are extremely valuable.

Only a small number of tigers remain in the wild, and they are stringently protected by the law. According to conservation organizations, in Vietnam, only around 30 tigers remain in the wild and 100 are on farms. Tigers around the world are seriously faced with extinction.

As the general standard of living in Vietnam improves, the demand for the small supply of tiger products increases, inevitably leading to higher prices, huge profits, and strengthening of the international tiger smuggling network. Most smuggled tigers originate from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. A tiger costing around 180 million VND in Laos will fetch double on Vietnamese market. The biggest consumer market and location for the preparation of tiger bone glue is in the capital city, Hanoi.

Since 2005, 105 cases involving violations against tiger protection laws have been raised. Most cases involved skin, bone and other tiger parts. Seventeen cases involved frozen tigers and only one involved a live tiger.

Any smuggling that is intercepted represents just a fraction of what is really occurring. Offenders rarely point the finger at colleagues, and most of the people caught are usually only intermediaries or employees. The real network organizers and consumers remain a mystery and penalties applied to those arrested are not harsh enough to act as a deterrent.

According to ENV, out of 27 offenders arrested in cases of tiger trading, only four were punished with imprisonment, serving relatively short 16-24 month prison sentences. Most of the arrested traders were given probation (12 offenders) or re-education without being detained (nine offenders). In two cases involving tigers being kept at private homes, the offenders did not receive any punishment, with authorities stating that the law only forbids  the hunting, slaughtering and breeding of rare and wild animals; it is not an offence to ‘store’ or ‘offer’ them. The most serious case involved the trade and transportation of four tigers worth billions of VND, yet the offenders received a mere probation.

Owners of tiger breeding farms could not prove the legal origin of many of the tigers at their farms, and authorities were unwilling to prove their illegal status. Arguments broke out in the community after six private tiger breeding farms were seized in 2007. In response, breeders were financially penalized and allowed to continue breeding tigers at farms, although no laws actually allow this.

Culturally, the acceptance of the continued slaughter of the ‘supernatural’ King of the Jungle in the same way a cow, pig or chicken is killed seems ‘antispritual’. Glue made from the bones of tigers from farms and those from the wild cannot be distinguished, even though the Vietnamese consumer market believe that only the use of wild animals meets the ’standard’.

Lenient penalties applied to traders and farm owners illegally buying and keeping tigers reduces the role of law as a deterrent, ultimately weakening the effect of legal enforcement activities in putting an end to tiger trade.

2010 is the Year of the Tiger and has also been named the Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations. What does the future hold for the tiger?

(Science, Technology and Environment Committee of National Assembly)

Translated by Tong Thu Huong on Jul 27, 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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