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Billion-dollar wildlife industry in Vietnam under assault as law drafted to halt trading

Move will hopefully curb vast wildlife trade from farm, street markets, and online traders

Shoppers wear face masks at a market in Hanoi. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, has asked the country’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive to stop illegal trading and consumption of wildlife over fears it spreads disease.

The directive, seen as a victory for animal rights organisations, will lead to a clamping down on street-side markets dotted across the country, increase prosecutions of online traders and ideally put pressure on thousands of farms with known links to illegal wildlife trading.

Vitenam’s move to ban the wildlife trade follows similar moves by the Chinese government, after the new coronavirus pandemic appeared to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan.

Pangolins smuggled from Laos and found in a bus in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province. Photograph: HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images

Both illegal and “legal” wildlife trading flourishes in Vietnam, where the trade has grown into a billion-dollar industry. There are thousands of markets around the country, many of which include stalls selling animals for food or as pets. Anyone walking around some of the street-side stalls of the Mekong delta can see fish tanks stuffed with sea turtles or skinned-alive frogs.

There is also a thriving online trade in animals. Many sellers advertise on Facebook, uploading photos of leopard cats caught in mesh nets, dead pangolins stored in a freezer, slaughtered macaque monkeys, frozen tiger cubs, butchered bats or even freshly barbecued wildlife. They are bought as status symbols, pets, food, or to be used in traditional medicines.

Yet the largest issue in terms of Vietnam’s wildlife trade is the nation’s “legal” commercial farms, where you can see maltreated civets in metal cages or an array of rare reptiles. Across Vietnam, bears are still trapped in tiny cages on bear bile farms, while Nghe An province in central Vietnam is known for tiger farms.

“Opportunistic farmers can legally acquire licences for a plethora of species. Some of these species are incredibly difficult to raise in captivity while others are not economically viable to raise and sell profitably, but it has not been a common practice to involve third parties in the process of licensing farms, so the authorities are issuing permits to trade native species that can only be sourced from the wild,” Douglas Hendrie, director of enforcement for local environment NGO Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) told the Guardian.

“Additionally, in some cases farmers can get away with trading completely protected species which are not even allowed to be farmed due to authorities lacking education on species protection. With such a poorly regulated and enforced commercial wildlife farming industry few fear prosecution.”

“Animals from these farms and ‘conservation’ facilities are then sold via a huge ‘legal’ industry to businessmen, restaurants, traditional medicine shops and even across the border into China,” Hendrie added.

There is a thriving online trade in animals such as macaque monkeys (pictured), tiger cubs, bats or even freshly barbecued wildlife. They are bought as status symbols, pets, food, or to be used in traditional medicines. Photograph: Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

On 20 November, Vietnamese authorities investigated a wildlife farm and temporarily seized 57 animals from 19 different species, the Guardian has learned. In this case, the owner was caught in possession of more than 10 species protected by law – a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It is this diversity of species – as seen in Wuhan’s wet market – that can lead to the spread of disease.

According to Hendrie, online trading has grown in appeal as sellers can hide their identity while reaching more buyers. Entire Facebook pages are dedicated to ivory, rhino horns and bear claws or posting photos of animals being caught or slaughtered. Last year ENV recorded more than 2,400 advertisements in violation of wildlife protection laws on Facebook, YouTube, Zalo and other online platforms, along with more than 600 people caught illegally possessing wildlife.

Vietnam began recognising protected wildlife species listed by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 1994. Currently, Vietnamese law prohibits the trafficking of protected wildlife products, such as pangolins or rhinos, and the illegal trading or killing of wildlife. Yet campaigners say the illegal trade continues to flourish thanks to poor enforcement. Convicted criminals can face imprisonment or a fine of more than $600 (£500).

Hanoi-based wildlife NGO Pan Nature recently sent a letter to the prime minister’s office – signed by 14 other environmental NGOs including WWF, Animals Asia, ENV and Traffic – calling on authorities to close markets and other locations where illegal wildlife is on sale. And the prime minister has now asked Vietnam’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive and present it by 1 April.

Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director at Pan Nature, said the conservation community in Vietnam has “unanimously joined hands” to propose recommendations to the government.

“We welcome the proactive response from the prime minister with specific guidance to relevant agencies for drafting the directive to completely ban illegal wildlife consumption and trade in Vietnam,” he said. “We hope to see Vietnam as a country free of illegal wildlife trade in a very near future. We expect unanimous actions of government agencies in enforcing wildlife protection laws.”

A moon bear rests in a pool inside an enclosure at the a bear rescue centre in Tam Dao national park. Across Vietnam, bears are also still trapped in tiny cages on bear bile farms. Photograph: Minh Hoang/EPA

The exact actions made possible by the new directive will become clear when it’s presented at the beginning of April. The 14 NGOs that signed the letter are pushing for the closure of wildlife markets, increased policing of online sales and an end to permits for transporting large quantities of wildlife.

Any suspicious shipments, they say, should be reported to police, while large deliveries of “legal” wildlife should be investigated to determine whether laundering was involved. If there is evidence of crime, farms’ licences could be revoked and sentences of up to 15 years handed out.

Source: The Guardian

Vietnam considers wildlife trade ban in response to coronavirus pandemic

  • Last month, conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister recommending action against the wildlife trade as a means of preventing future outbreaks of disease, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In response, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc tasked the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development with drafting a ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife by April 1.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak has been relatively contained in Vietnam, with 75 confirmed infections at the time of writing, but the economic impact is severe.
  • Conservationists hope to see strong enforcement on both the supply and demand sides of the wildlife trade.

    HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — As the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly onslaught around the world, the Vietnamese government has moved to ban the wildlife trade.

    Amid scientific theories that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) began at a market in Wuhan, China, that sold live wild animals and animal parts, a group of conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister on Feb. 16.

    The organizations, based both within Vietnam and abroad, called on Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to “take strong and sustainable actions to halt all illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam.”

    “The emergence of COVID-19, with initial evidence of a link between virus host and transmitters from wildlife, pushed us to bring it to the attention of policymakers to address the risk, as well as the need to protect wild animals,” Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), a Hanoi-based conservation organization that signed the letter, said in an email. “In addition, we call on the government to enforce wildlife protection laws and eliminate the illegal trade and consumption.”

    Prime Minister Phuc responded on March 6 by tasking the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) with formulating directives to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife and submit them to the government for review by April 1. MARD did not respond to request for comment.

    A pangolin in Vietnam. Pangolins are widely traded for meat and use in traditional medicine. There is some evidence that the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in pangolins, but the matter is not yet settled scientifically. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    In late February, the Chinese government permanently banned the wildlife trade and the consumption of all non-aquatic wild animals, including those raised in captivity. This followed a ban on wild animal markets nationwide, a reaction to the outbreak. However, according to the New York-based NGO Wildlife Conservation Society, China’s ban only covers products intended to be eaten, not those destined for other uses, such as traditional medicine or fur.

    “We would expect [Vietnam’s MARD] to look at reviewing policy around how wildlife is dealt with, both in terms of the international- and national-level trade, both illegal and legal,” said Benjamin Rawson, conservation and program development director at the NGO WWF Vietnam, a signatory to the NGO letter. “Our hope is that it includes directives around how you deal with wildlife as a food item, because that’s where a lot of the risks are in the supply chain, from hunters all the way to consumers.”

    Wild animal meat, while not widely served in Vietnam’s major cities, is relatively easy to find throughout the country and remains common in more rural areas. It is difficult to assess the size of the wildlife market in Vietnam, illegal or legal. The illegal trade involves high-value species like tigers, rhinos and elephants, while most smaller species are unregulated. The supply is a mix of wild-caught animals, such as pangolins and leopard cats, and animals raised on farms, such as civets and moon bears.

     

    A leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in Vietnam. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    Birds are particularly sought-after. According to a February 2020 report (pdf) from the international NGO TRAFFIC, in April 2016 a three-day survey in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two biggest urban areas, found 8,047 birds from 115 species for sale, 99% of which were native to the country and 90% of which had no legal protection. The report also found numerous advertisements for bear parts and products on e-commerce sites that broke national laws.

    Rawson said he is encouraged by the government’s decision to act on the trade, especially amid the wide-ranging social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam. The multi-billion dollar tourism industry has been wiped out, with the major markets of China, South Korea and Europe either completely cut off or heavily restricted, while the huge manufacturing industry faces supply chain disruptions and the likelihood of reduced demand.

    There have been no reported deaths from COVID-19 in Vietnam as of this writing. But there have been 75 confirmed infections, many among foreign tourists, and the number appears set to increase.

    “Essentially, we have this COVID-19 outbreak, we have stock markets in freefall, general fear in the populace, a public health crisis, and it’s really a result of people wanting to eat wildlife,” Rawson said. “So if we really want to address this seriously, we have to get to the bottom of this demand.”

    Addressing wildlife trade and consumption will do nothing to staunch the current COVID-19 pandemic, but the hope is that it will prevent a global disaster of this kind from happening again.

    Much attention has been paid in recent years to Vietnam’s role as a consumer and an international hub of high-value species such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins, and awareness of the need to preserve these species has improved, especially among young Vietnamese.

    “Demand in Vietnam, China and other countries is certainly driving the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa,” Rawson said, “but what is often overlooked is the biodiversity crisis that’s happening in the forests of Vietnam and surrounding countries, where wildlife is being snared indiscriminately for consumption.”

    A binturong or bearcat (Arctictis binturong) in Vietnam, where the meat is consumed and parts are used in traditional medicine. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

    How to end the trade

    Enforcement in relation to every step of the trade will be key, Rawson said.

    “That means tightening up the investigative work, arrests and prosecutions in the illegal wildlife trade, and the farming of wild animals is another key area that needs to be looked at very closely to mitigate future risk,” he said.

    WWF has been working on this within Vietnam by supporting enforcement agencies within protected areas like national parks.

    “But of course, it has to go beyond just the boundaries of protected areas,” Rawson added. “The key is addressing the drivers that cause people to go in and hunt wildlife. There’s money to be made by wildlife traders, so we do investigative work around identifying those traders and supporting local courts to make prosecutions [and] to understand wildlife-related laws and the severity of some of these infractions.”

    Awareness-raising on the consumer end will also be crucial, as some people believe that wild animal meat is safer than farm-raised meat.

    “It’s an important moment in time to try and change those cultural perceptions,” Rawson said. “There’s no regulation, no cold-chain storage for wild meat, and there are reservoirs of disease in wild animal populations. And the conservation community is moving quickly to take advantage of the outbreak to tell people that this is not a safe option, either for personal or public health.”

    Nguyen, of PanNature, said he expects to coordinate closely with MARD and other government agencies to formulate a ban. However, he said the agency had not yet reached out, and no further details of what the ban might include are available yet.

    The NGOs’ letter recommends identifying restaurants that illegally sell wild meat and shutting them down, closing markets where wildlife is illegally sold, requiring e-commerce platforms and social media to remove advertisements of illegal wildlife products and creating strong regulations on raising wildlife in captivity, among other measures.

    Following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak of 2012, both of which were caused by coronaviruses linked to animals, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the dangers of trading in and consuming wildlife.

    “The current crisis is a direct result of demand for wildlife products, usually illegal, and we really need to address the supply and demand of wildlife meat if we’re going to avoid future catastrophe,” Rawson said. “We’ve had several, and these sorts of things are a matter of when, not if, and while they may be rare, the impacts are significant. It has to be a high-level policy issue, and it’s starting to become one, which is very encouraging.”


    Michael Tatarski is a Vietnam-based freelance journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @miketatarski. 

    Source: Mongabay

Vietnam to ban wildlife trade following conservationists’ demand

The government has paid heed to a plea by conservationists to ban wildlife trade and consumption.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to “quickly” draft a directive to ban these activities and submit it to the government no later than April 1.

The PM’s office had received a letter from PanNature, a non-profit wildlife organization, with a list of steps to stop illegal wildlife trade.

A moon bear is rescued from a farm by the Animals Asia foundation in Lang Son Province, northern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

The letter, sent to the PM’s office earlier last month, quoted the heads of 14 conservation organizations as calling on the government to “identify and close markets and other locations where illegal wildlife is on sale” to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

The signatories included the heads of PanNature, the World Wildlife Fund (WFF), Animals Asia Foundation, TRAFFIC, Save Vietnam Wildlife, and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Wild animals have been identified as the link allowing the novel coronavirus to jump to humans, similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012.

The letter acknowledged that in early February the Vietnam Administration of Forestry had sent a directive to provinces on controlling wildlife trade to prevent the spread of the coronavirus following a government directive on combating the epidemic.

But it said the government “should take more concrete action.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, director of PanNature, said the government’s actions would help show Vietnam is a “regional leader” in combating illegal wildlife trade and biodiversity conservation.

“We expect that with this response of the Prime Minister, enforcement agencies will demonstrate their commitment to eradicate illegal wildlife trade and consumption in our country completely.”

Since Friday 14 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 after 22 days without a new case.

Nguyen Hong Nhung, who returned to Hanoi from Europe, first tested positive. A 61-year-old man and nine foreign nationals who were on the same flight as Nhung, the personal chauffeur and an aunt of Nhung and a 27-year-old man returning to Vietnam from South Korea’s Daegu City were then found to be infected.

The global death toll has topped 3,800 in 104 countries and territories, mostly in mainland China (3,119), followed by Italy (366), Iran (194) and South Korea (51).

Source: VnExpress

Viet Nam vows to eliminate wildlife trade

Director of the Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) Tr?nh Lê Nguyên talks to Vietnamplus online newspaper on Vi?t Nam’s efforts to eliminate the wildlife trade

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Conservationists Urge Vietnam to Stamp out Wildlife Trade amid Epidemic

Fourteen wildlife non-profits have jointly called on Vietnam to scrap wildlife markets to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks, citing other global epidemics linked to wild animals.

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Laos to go ahead with Luang Prabang dam project despite warnings

Trinh Le Nguyen, head of Vietnam’s People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), said at this point he expects all proposed dams to be built, regardless of their environmental effect.

“It’s like domino effect now,” he said, noting that more than enough evidence of environmental damage has been presented.

“I am afraid another consultation is just a waste of time for everyone, considering lessons from previous four,” Nguyen said.

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Rubber Group Unveils Sustainable Development Plan

To ensure the Sustainable Development Programme and Operational Plan are implemented widely and effectively, VRG on Wednesday signed agreements with many organisations, including one for sustainable forest management and certification with the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry and others with Oxfam and PanNature.

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Workshop Looks to Expand Network of Wildlife Reporters in Vietnam

A refresher course for journalists on reporting about the conservation and rescue of wild animals began in the northern province of Vinh Phuc on May 21.

The two-day event aims to popularise the reality of and reasons for wildlife trafficking, as well as share experiences of reporters and experts and expand the network of journalists reporting on the issue.

It is organised by PanNature, a Vietnamese non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting and conserving diversity of life.

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Questions remain as Vietnam reaches major REDD+ milestone

Nguyen Thi Hai Van, a PhD candidate at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at Switzerland’s University of Lausanne, Policy Program Advisor of PanNature, did her Master’s research on the REDD+ pilot project in Kon Tum mentioned above. She explained in an email that this province, along with nearby Quang Nam and Quang Ngai, have received money from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to pay local communities to protect forests. This particular program was created with assistance from Fauna & Flora International.

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Compliance key to overseas success

According to Vietnamese not-for-profit organisation People and Nature Reconciliation’s (PanNature) latest survey on cross-border investment risks, there are two main reasons putting Vietnamese investors in legal risks. Accordingly, the companies do not accurately evaluate opportunities and challenges before venturing into the target country, especially the differences in culture, customs, and environmental policies.

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