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As few as five tigers may remain in the wild in Vietnam, most surviving in border areas of the central and northwest region of the country. However, investigations show that the illegal tiger trade flourishes in Vietnam, with a small number of farms known to be selling tiger cubs and trading in tigers, as well as suspected of laundering tigers through their farms that originate from abroad.
Vietnam is home to the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti). This subspecies is also found in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and China.
The Indochinese tiger is protected under Vietnam’s wildlife protection laws, Decree 160 (2014) and Decree 32 (2006), as well as banned from commercial trade under the international treaty regulating the trade of endangered wildlife, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). It is illegal to hunt, trap, keep, kill, transport, sell or advertise tigers or tiger products in Vietnam.
Over the past 30 years, tiger populations have steadily declined in Vietnam, as well as across the tiger’s native range. The International Tiger Coalition (ITC), representing organizations worldwide working to protect tigers, estimates that about 3,500 tigers remain in the wild globally. Experts also estimate that as few as five tigers may remain in the wild in Vietnam. In 2010, Vietnam lost its last rhino and many experts believe that the tiger is likely to be the next high-profile species to be declared extinct in Vietnam.
The biggest threats to Vietnam’s tigers are hunting and illegal trade. Tigers are mainly traded for their bones which are used to make traditional medicine; however, they are also consumed in wine containing whole tiger cubs or parts of tigers. Stuffed and mounted tigers, tiger skins, claws, and teeth are also highly valued as decorations and jewelry.
Vietnam’s wild tiger populations are also threatened by habitat loss mainly due to deforestation, and the reduced numbers of the large prey species, such as gaur and sambar deer, which they need to survive.
The most common use of tigers in Vietnam is to make tiger bone medicine, a form of traditional medicine used for the treatment of bone or joint-related ailments such as arthritis. The tiger bones are boiled down until they form a glue-like substance, which is then dried in cake-like blocks from which shavings are mixed with wine and consumed.
ENV’s investigations show that most consumers obtain tiger bone medicine through personal contacts with brokers, witnessing the tiger bone medicine-making process to assure authenticity of the product, and rarely purchasing products over the counter.
The tiger trade is unique when compared to the illegal trade of other wildlife in Vietnam, due to the relative rarity and high value of the commodity. This often results in traders taking extra measures to assure secrecy in their dealings. Vietnam’s illicit tiger trade is carried out by elaborate criminal networks that avoid detection through the use of disposable cell phones, connections across international borders, and using friends in high places to facilitate a smooth and steady flow of their product to the consumer.
Most tigers confiscated in Vietnam originate from foreign sources, smuggled into Vietnam from Laos and Thailand where major farming operations exist that both produce and launder animals from the wild. A number of key figures behind the tiger trade in Vietnam have been identified but manage to avoid prosecution by distancing themselves from criminal activities or operating under protection of local officials. Prosecutions tend to target low-level figures involved in transport or brokering sales. Only a minute few of these prosecutions result in prison time for anyone involved.
Since 2006, ENV has investigated over 100 cases involving the trade, transport, possession, selling or advertising of tigers or tiger products. These cases include the confiscation of 69 dead tigers (frozen or bones), and 14 live tigers.
In June, 2014, a high-speed chase in the province of Nghe An ended when three male subjects in the fleeing vehicle threw two live tigers from the car and escaped. The mammals were transferred to a rescue center at Pu Mat National Park. The individuals responsible were never found.
In August 2014, two tiger carcasses were discovered by police in a local restaurant in the south Vietnam. The tigers had been trafficked from north to south Vietnam to make tiger bone medicine, a traditional treatment falsely believed to soothe numerous ailments including bone-related complaints.
Two traffickers were arrested and six other people involved have been summoned for further investigation.
As of September 2016, there are a total of 253 tigers living in captivity in Vietnam: 199 of these tigers are living in 13 private farms and zoos in Vietnam. The remainder are at two state-owned zoos and rescue centers.
Vietnam’s tiger farmers purchased or received most of their original founder tigers from illegal sources, including animals smuggled into Vietnam from Cambodia, Laos or Thailand, or possibly traded amongst some of the more successful early tiger breeders in the south.
A small number of tiger farms in Vietnam are known to be selling tiger cubs and trading in tigers, as well as suspected of laundering tigers through their farms originating from abroad. At present, tiger farming does not contribute to a significant part of the illegal trade, although there are concerns about the potential growth of tiger farming in Vietnam.
As a major consumer of the world’s tigers, Vietnam has a critical role to play both to preserve the last of our own tigers, and to fulfill our responsibility to other tiger range countries by addressing the illegal trade of tigers and reducing consumer demand in Vietnam.
Tiger crimes need to be recognized and treated seriously, with law enforcement agencies targeting kingpins of the criminal networks and judicial bodies utilizing the full power of the law to prosecute major traders. Immediate action should also be taken to arrest the development of tiger farming in Vietnam (including a freeze on breeding), and assess the strategic importance of each farm in terms of its benefits to conservation.
ENV is working with law enforcement, decision-makers, and the public to stop the illegal trade of tigers and prevent further development of commercial tiger farming in Vietnam. Our campaign activities include:
|Ministry of Transportation||Ministry of Science and Technology|
As part of an ongoing initiative aimed at raising awareness amongst government employees, ENV has partnered with a number of ministries at the central level and provincial agencies to place awareness banners in the main lobbies and entrances of government buildings. Banners have been placed prominently in 10 central ministries, in addition to 21 markets throughout Vietnam.
Tiger focused hotline banners have been hosted by popular forums and websites