Myanmar eyes closure of wildlife trade hub on Chinese border

08 June 2016
Myanmar eyes closure of wildlife trade hub on Chinese border
Mong La, Myanmar border with China. Photo: Dxinwei/Panoramio

Myanmar authorities plan to shut down a notorious border town where exotic animal parts are sold openly, an official said Tuesday, as Southeast Asia struggles to stem a billion-dollar wildlife trade fuelled by Chinese demand.
Mong La, a lawless border town located in rebel-held territory in Myanmar's Shan state, is a market for endangered species and products -- such as elephant tusks and tiger wine -- which are freely traded, largely to Chinese tourists.
It is part of the "golden triangle," a hotbed of illegal activity, including drug, wildlife and people trafficking, that straddles Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
"We are planning to close the market. But without local people and local police, we won't be successful," Kyaw San Naing, the director of Myanmar's conservation ministry, told AFP.
He said previous governments -- for decades run by the military -- had allowed the trade to flourish making it hard to quickly shutter the lucrative zone. 
The ministry plans an education campaign to teach people about the value of protecting Myanmar's wildlife and natural resources. 
"It concerns (locals') livelihoods, so it will be difficult to close the market urgently. But to kill an elephant for two tusks is not the right way," he added.
Southeast Asia is a biodiversity hotspot, but weak governance, endemic corruption and porous borders across the region have allowed an illegal wildlife trade to boom.
Many of the products are funnelled to China, where there is a high demand for exotic pets, traditional medicines and luxury fashion products. 
Last week Thai authorities raided a temple run by Buddhist monks that charged tourists to pet scores of tigers kept on the compound.  
But the discovery of tiger skins, fangs and hundreds of talismans with tiger skin appeared to back long-running accusations that the temple has been raking in huge sums selling animal parts on the black market.
On Tuesday Thailand's park department director said police were also looking into the disappearance of 78 rare Madagascan tortoises from a Thai wildlife centre. 
The animals, worth $85,000 on the black market, had been rescued from illegal traders before vanishing from official care.