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Illegal Ivory Trade Found in Burma Town

  • Joe DeCapua

Ivory and leopard skin on display for sale in Mong La, Burma. Credit: Chris Shepherd

Ivory and leopard skin on display for sale in Mong La, Burma. Credit: Chris Shepherd

An undercover team of conservationists has found thousands of pieces of pieces of ivory being sold openly in a town in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The town is on the border with China, where the demand for illegal animal products is high.

The undercover team included members from the conservation organization TRAFFIC and Oxford Brookes University. The team found 3,300 pieces of ivory – as well as 50 raw elephant tusks – in Mong La in Shan State in the northeastern part of the country.

Dr. Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director in Southeast Asia, said. “There’s a very large wildlife market full of all different endangered and threatened and illegal species – everything from elephants to tigers, birds, ungulates, all kinds of things. Ivory, we found a shocking amount of ivory -- a lot more than we’ve seen in the past there. In the past we’ve seen small amounts, but we didn’t expect to find this much.”

Surveys in the past found a much different trade in animal products.

“That market has largely been species brought in for sale for meat and traditional medicine and some trophies, but not as much. It’s been a lot of deer brought in daily for meat, civets, smaller cats, otters, those sorts of things. And then trophies – some cat skins and antlers and horns of species,” he said.

Shepherd said that it’s difficult to tell how much of the illegal animal products in the town came from Africa.

“We did find products that were from Africa -- hippo teeth, for example. So, it’s likely. And also the volume of the ivory. It would be terrifying if it was all from Asian elephants given the state of Asian elephants.”

TRAFFIC will report its findings to government officials in Burma and China. Both countries are members of CITES – the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

“There are tools to use to tackle this trade to ensure that it’s not crossing the border and that the markets are eventually shutdown, said Shepherd.

He added that China has been doing more than most countries to crackdown on the illegal ivory trade. However, he said more must be done to prevent a repeat of what was found in the Burmese border town.

For example, he said, “The need for reducing demand in China, for the ivory. We’ve got to kill the market, kill the demand. And I think that’s an incredibly important step. The other, though, is enforcement and that’s enforcement within China, enforcement within Myanmar, and cooperation between the two countries. And using CITES as a tool, really, to collaborate and to put this tool into action and shutdown these cross border markets.”

Last week, China publicly destroyed six tons of confiscated ivory in Guangdong.

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