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Global Ideas

Myanmar to crack down on illegal wildlife trade

Myanmar wants to combat rampant illegal wildlife trade in the lawless border town of Mong La. Products include ivory and tiger wine. But it could prove difficult.

Myanmar officials say they will crack down on the sale of exotic animal parts in a notorious border town as Chinese demand continues to fuel the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia.

But authorities in the former military dictatorship have their work cut out for them. Mong La, located in rebel-held territory in Shan state, is a lawless border town where endangered species are openly traded en masse, largely to Chinese tourists. Products include elephant tusks, and tiger wine, which is believed to cure a variety of ailments.

"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 the previous military governments had allowed trade to flourish, which would make it hard to close the lucrative market quickly. Mong La is part of the "golden triangle", which is a zone of illegal activity that includes drug, wildlife and people trafficking that straddles Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The ministry is planning a campaign to educate people of the value in protecting Myanmar's wildlife and natural resources. Closing the market will be "difficult" said Kyaw San Naing, as it is the source of peoples' livelihoods. "But to kill an elephant for two tusks is not the right way," he added.

Thailand Tiger-Tempel Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua

At the controversial Tiger Temple in Thailand, visitors could get up close to the exotic animals for a price

Southeast Asia is a biodiversity hotspot that's home to tigers, monkeys and many other endangered species. Weak governance, widespread corruption and porous borders across the region have allowed the illegal wildlife trade to grow.

Last week, Thai authorities raided a temple run by Buddhist monks as a popular tourist attraction where visitors could interact with tigers. There they found tiger skins, fangs, body parts and most recently a "slaughterhouse." The controversial Tiger Temple has long faced accusations that it had been raking in huge sums for selling animal parts on the black market.

zaw/ssm/apj/rb (AFP)