One of the most open wildlife markets in the world and one of the few to still be selling tiger parts openly will finally be closed following an agreement between the ruling Va people and TRAFFIC, the international group that campaigns against illegal wildlife trading.
The market is found in northeast Myanmar and is in a region controlled by the Va people. The ruling body is closely associated with a range of illegal activities including drug smuggling and human trafficking as well as the illegal wildlife trade. However the regional government is keen to become more accepted on the international trade and it’s believed that the authority will act on closing down the markets as a move towards gaining international recognition.[pullquote]… a 10 year investigation in the area which shows that at least 400 tigers have been traded in the area[/pullquote]
“Basically closing these markets will alleviate pressure on all of Southeast Asia’s tiger populations because the sourcing is being done from areas as far away as India and Sumatra,” said William Schaedla of the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC. “If we were to close these markets it would stop the drain on those source populations of tigers.”
“If the markets are not closed, we will see the end of all tigers,” Schaedla told a press conference Friday. None of the goals set at the St. Petersburg summit can be reached if the illegal wildlife trade in the Thailand-Myanmar-China border region is not stopped, he said.
Speaking of the offer to close the markets down Schaedla believes that the regional government – backed up by it’s own powerful army – can be trusted to carry out their part of the agreement. “They’re interested in establishing contact with the outside world, and this is a much less contentious issue than some of the other things that they’re facing, such as human trafficking or drugs or some of the other crime issues. And it’s perhaps also a much more straightforward issue for them to take care of,” Schaedla said.
TRAFFIC has recently released a report based on a 10 year investigation in the area which shows that at least 400 tigers have been traded in the area. Traders come from around the South East Asia region to the border town of Mong La to buy their tiger parts for house decorations, traditional medicine ingredients or for use as magical potions and amulets. Small warehouses were found that were stacked with tiger and leopard skins together with other big cat parts.
As the world watches the meeting at St Petersburg to see if an agreement and management plan can be hammered out to save the tiger from extinction it’s good to see one of the worst markets for tiger trading being closed down but we should not be celebrating too much. This agreement is to close an open market it does nothing to damped down demand and while the demand is still there people will supply it. The closure of the market is a good news story but it will not do anything to conserve or protect tigers as the traders will just go underground instead of openly advertising their wares.
One of the biggest challenges for the tiger range countries if they want to double tiger numbers by 2022 is to try and change cultural and traditional beliefs and customs. Making people realise that there is no evidence to support tiger parts being used in medicines and potions really is the big challenge but given time it can be accomplished. It’s just as important from a tiger conservation point of view to get those who set the fashions and trends to say that tiger print fabrics can be fashionable but actual tigers skins themselves are not fashionable. It can be done, it was done in the west with regards to fur and it can be done in Asia with regards to big cat skins.
The closure of the tiger market in Myanmar though is a very positive move.