The golden standard: fighting illegal wildlife trade during Golden Week | WWF
The golden standard: fighting illegal wildlife trade during Golden Week

Posted on 12 November 2019

Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists travel to Southeast Asia over the National Day Golden Week Holiday to enjoy good food, idyllic beaches, and shopping. Unfortunately, some are also shopping for illegal wildlife products.

From October 1-7, millions of Chinese tourists took advantage of the National Day Golden Week Holiday to travel domestically and internationally. Many of these tourists traveled to Southeast Asia to enjoy good food, idyllic beaches, and shopping.


Unfortunately, some Mainland Chinese tourists are in the market for something a bit more sinister - illegal wildlife products. These items, from ivory to rhino horn, are unfortunately seen as being widely available in the Greater Mekong region, despite recent upgrades in legislation and enforcement.


In order to try and curb this pernicious trade, WWF partnered with a number of important national and regional players to influence tourists and improve oversight of those purchasing and transporting wildlife products across borders. Our targeted efforts reached over five million travelers and traders in the Greater Mekong, and driving home the message to #TravelIvoryFree and avoid breaking current legislation which bans buying African ivory and taking it back to China.


In Laos, enforcement officials seized 3kg of Ivory at Luang Prabang Airport. The seizure was carried out by the Department of Forest Inspection (DoFI) as the lead agency of the Lao Wildlife Enforcement Network (Lao-WEN), and was part of a larger operation to curb illegal wildlife trade over the Golden Week holiday.

The operation, which was targeted to high traffic areas including Luang Prabang, Luang Numtha, Oudomxai, Bokeo, and Vientiane Capital, was a joint effort of seven governmental agencies and based on an operational plan that was developed collaboratively with WWF and the Government of Lao. Activities included displaying banners from the #TravelIvoryFree campaign at four airports and distributing leaflets about the illegality of transporting wildlife back to China. 


In addition, active uniformed and plain clothes officers conducted inspections in areas known to be wildlife tourism hotspots, including restaurants, shops, and hotels popular with Chinese tourists. Two shops were found to be selling illegal rhino horn and tiger products, and the owners are currently under investigation. 


“This is the kind of collaboration we need to continue if we are going to successfully stop illegal wildlife trade,” said Mr. Air Vilaketh, Deputy Director of Wildlife and Aquatic Division of     DoFI. “Since the Prime Minister’s Order No. 05 was issued last year, these types of enforcement actions are how we demonstrate our commitment to curbing the buying and selling of endangered species and protecting our natural world.”


In Myanmar and Vietnam, precision marketing was used to reach the people who either buy ivory during their vacation, or sell ivory to Chinese tourists.

WWF Myanmar posted targeted messages in Burmese language on Facebook and Instagram aimed at key locations, including Yangon, Mandalay, Golden Rock, Kyaing Tong, Tachileik, Bagan, and Nyaung Shwe. These posts reached a total of 910,082 viewers overall. 


Building on the success of the campaign to make Yangon illegal wildlife free, WWF and Voices for Wildlife are planning the Road to an Illegal Wildlife Trade-Free Mandalay, which will amplify the call to #ENDWILDLIFECRIME within Myanmar. 


“As a key wholesale trading and transit hub for illegal wildlife products, it’s critical to stop the trade in Mandalay,” said Grace Hwa, Wildlife Trade Program Manager of WWF-Myanmar. “If we can close the markets there by partnering with key government ministries and cultural influencers, it will do a lot to impact the overall volume of illegal wildlife being trafficked through Myanmar.”


In Vietnam, WWF shared the #TravelIvoryFree campaign video and other materials with key partners who shared the materials on the GoldenTour Group, UNESCO Responsible Tourism Association in Vietnam and the SantaGroup websites. By leveraging the strong partnerships, WWF was able to reach a large digital audience of potential ivory buyers in both Chinese, Vietnamese and English languages. 


Similarly recognizing the importance of working with actors in the travel industry, WWF held a workshop with various tourism related associations in Thailand to prepare them for the massive influx of Mainland Chinese tourists and potential illegal wildlife buyers. 50 tour guides were taught about the potential for ivory tourism and how to avoid participating in this trade.


“It’s so critical to work with these tour guides and tour companies,” said Jedsada Taweekan, Regional Illegal Wildlife Trade Program Manager at WWF-Greater Mekong. “We’ve heard reports of tour companies actually helping tourists select ‘easy to smuggle’ ivory pieces. They have so much direct influence over where and what tourists buy, so if we can get them to advocate for making wildlife friendly choices and rewarding them for that kind of behavior, it will make a huge difference.”


In addition, WWF partnered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) which has five branch offices in China and was the main partner for a successful #TravelIvoryFree campaign last year. TAT authorized WWF to use their LOGO in the domestic #TravelIvoryFree campaign and has publicized the campaign on weibo within China in order to reach tourists traveling to Thailand.

Going forward WWF will be coordinating with Thai Airways to publish an anti-illegal wildlife trade ad in their inflight magazine and with Terminal21 and Centre Point Hotel in Bangkok to prominently advertise the #TravelIvoryFree campaign.

Ivory seizure over Golden Week, 2019, at Luang Prabang Airport.
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