Illegal Wildlife Trade | WWF
© Lee Poston / WWF-Greater Mekong

Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Greater Mekong

The Greater Mekong is a global hub for illegal wildlife trade

The region is a perfect storm -- a source, transit route, and final destination for many of the world's most valuable and threatened wildlife species. This multi-million dollar trade significantly threatens the survival of WWF priority species, including tigers, Asian and African elephants, and all rhino species.

© Martin HARVEY / WWF

Closing Time for the Greater Mekong's Wildlife Markets

Growing wealth among the urban middle class across the Greater Mekong and in neighboring China means demand for iconic wildlife species is accelerating. The Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) occurs across the region, from remote corners of Myanmar and Laos, to markets in Bangkok and Hanoi, and caters to both domestic and international consumers.

Tackling this transboundary trade requires a transboundary approach, and WWF Greater Mekong is implementing an ambitious regional program to combat IWT in all five Greater Mekong countries. From improving cross border cooperation between wildlife enforcement agencies in the Golden Triangle, to implemnting targeted demand reduction campaings - be it for ivory among inbound Chinese travelers or wild meat for domestic consumption - WWF Greater Mekong is using a multi-faceted approach to fight the ilicit trade in wild animals and their parts.

© Ola Jennersten / WWF-Sweden
At least 20,000 elephants are killed in Africa every year, their tusks taken to supply Asian ivory markets. WWF is working to end this trade.

Closing Asia's Ivory Markets

Closing Asia's Ivory Markets

Collaboration is the Key

Key government institutions and ministries in the Greater Mekong countries and China have taken collaborative action to address illegal wildlife trade within the region and to comply by the regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to which they are all signatories. By building partnerships with governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations working on wildlife trafficking, WWF Greater Mekong is aiming to leverage commitments to close illegal wildlife markets, and simultaneously provide the information, skills, and tools needed for effective action. 

Drastic action is needed if we are to stop the staggering decline in species such as tigers, elephants, rhinos, and pangolins - not just in Asia but globally.

To help conserve wild animal populations around the world by combatting the illegal wildlife trade, WWF will focus on:

  • Ensuring national wildlife protection legislation is strengthened;
  • Strengthening of wildlife law enforcement systems in the Greater Mekong countries and improving collaboration between agencies and across borders;
  • Supporting the establishment and training of Mobile Enforcement Units with true national mandates and multi-agency jurisdiction including prosecutors, police, customs and forensic capacities;
  • Advocating for the closure of tiger and bear farms across Southeast Asia – many of which supply the illegal wildlife trade and increase demand for these species from the wild;
  • Working with neighbouring countries’ governments to push for sanctions and accountability for companies involved in illegal wildlife trade; 
  • Ongoing market monitoring to ensure wildlife markets are shut and illegal trade is not displaced/moved underground; and
  • Demand reduction for wildlife parts and products, both with Chinese travelers and with domestic consumers.

© Anton Vorauer / WWF

Perhaps one of the most widely recognized species illustrating the gravity of the situation is the tiger. Over the last century, 95% of the world’s tiger population has vanished due to shrinking habitats, expanding human populations, increasing demand for traditional medicines and wild meat, and a decrease in prey species. Many of Asia's poached and farmed tigers pass through the Golden Triangle states, where Mong La market is especially notorious for tiger trade. In the Greater Mekong region, about 200 tigers are known to exist, down from 1200 individuals in 1998, and many remnant populations are small and isolated.

Read WWF's statement on CITES' decisions on Asian Big Cats and captive breeding facilities.