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. A highly profitable black market has emerged, one that is less risky than those for drugs and human trafficking.

Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) occurs across the region – from remote corners of Myanmar and Laos, to markets in Bangkok and Hanoi – but its center of gravity is the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR, and China meet. Here, casino-resorts, hotels, restaurants and markets openly sell illegal wildlife products with relative impunity. While it is understood that the majority of consumers in these markets are from Mainland China, buyers come from across the Greater Mekong and further afield in Southeast Asia, including Singapore.

From Regional Action to Global Impact

WWF Greater Mekong is implementing an ambitious regional approach for securing effective intergovernmental action against wildlife trade in the Golden Triangle. This includes promoting species protection legislation, supporting effective transboundary cooperation, and improving law enforcement effectiveness at key border crossings. The ultimate goal is that priority target markets in the Golden Triangle are shut down

© 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

Of course this is a global trade, and a great deal of the products being sold in the Golden Triangle Markets, as well as other markets in Southeast Asia, are coming from African species, particularly african elephants and rhinos. Surveys of just three shops in 2015 demonstrated wide availability of rhino horn, with openly displayed stocks valued at more than 250,000 USD.  It is therefore clear that the wildlife markets of the Golden Triangle have direct links with the current rhino and elephant poaching crisis in Southern and Eastern Africa. Recognizing this link, WWF is also implementing a global initiative to close Asia's elephant ivory markets, and in the process, aims to stop the poaching and trading of other endangered species.

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 these 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. The most visible symbols of this decline – the wide open markets of Southeast Asia and the Golden Triangle-- must be closed as soon as possible. A combined effort between WWF, regional Governments and NGOs, and international partners can make this happen with an ambitious, coordinated strategy that will finally close this deadly gateway.

To Achieve the Wildlife Trade Big Win, WWF will Focus on:

  • Ensuring national wildlife protection legislation is strengthened;
  • Strengthening of law enforcement systems, including establishing National Coordination Committees (with inter-ministerial and NGO presence) for responding to reports of illegal wildlife trade in Lao PDR and Myanmar;
  • Supporting the establishment and training of Mobile Enforcement Units with true national mandates and multi-agency jurisdiction including prosecutors, police, customs and forensic capacities;
  • Closing all tiger and bear farms across 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; and
  • Ongoing market monitoring to ensure wildlife markets are shut and illegal trade is not displaced/moved underground.

© 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.