Tiger, pangolin farming in Myanmar risks ‘boosting demand’

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 25, 2017, a Siberian tiger sits in the Hengdaohezi Siberian Tiger Park in Hengdaohezi township on the outskirts of Mudanjiang. – Myanmar has opened the way for the commericial farming of tigers, pangolins and other endangered species, a move conservationists fear will drive Chinese demand for rare wildlife products and ultimately increase poaching. (Photo by Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP)

YANGON, Myanmar (AFP) — Conservationists have warned a sudden change in Myanmar’s law allowing the commercial farming of tigers, pangolins and other endangered species risks further fuelling demand in China for rare wildlife products.

The Southeast Asian nation is already a hub for the illegal trafficking of wildlife, a trade driven by demand from neighbouring China and worth an estimated $20 billion worldwide.

In June, Myanmar’s Forest Department quietly gave the green light to private zoos to apply for licences to breed 90 species, more than 20 of which are endangered or critically endangered.

It was an unexpected move that caught conservation groups off-guard but was explained by the Forest Department as a way to help reduce poaching of wild species and illegal breeding.

Tigers — thought to number just 22 in Myanmar — appear on the list alongside pangolins, elephants and various species of vulture as well as the Ayeyarwady dolphin, of which only a few dozen remain in the wild in the country. The critically endangered Siamese crocodile can now even be bred for its meat and skin.

A Siamese crocodile is displayed at the Tropiquarium of Servion on November 11, 2010 near Lausanne. The fresh water crocodile native from Asia is critically endangered and already exterminated from many regions. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

But conservationists say commercial farming in the long-term legitimises the use of endangered species and fuels market demand.

“Commercial trade has been shown to increase illegal trade in wildlife by creating a parallel market and boosting overall demand for wild animal products,” conservation groups WWF and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) said in a joint statement.

Experts also fear Myanmar’s lack of capacity to regulate the trade raises the risk of disease spillover to humans from animals and even the “next COVID-19”.

John Goodrich from global wild cat conservation organisation Panthera warned farming can also “provide a means for laundering wild specimens”, complicating efforts to police the trade.

This picture taken on August 17, 2019 shows a sign of the United Nations’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the opening day of the World Wildlife Conference in Geneva. – Specialists meet in Geneva from August 17 to August 28, 2019 to try to tighten rules on trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns and other endangered animal and plant species amid growing alarm over accelerating extinctions. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) does allow captive breeding of certain endangered species, but only under strict regulation.

But Myanmar’s ability to police the trade is disputed, say environmental groups, who fear the country risks following in the footsteps of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, which have lost much of their wildlife.

The Forest Department said the new list was drawn up “in full adherence with the law” and after consultation with “conservation groups, academics, and experts in the field”.

Rohingya children play football next to forested hills on the outskirts of the Shalbagan refugee camp in Teknaf on August 22, 2019. (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP)

Conservationists fear the rule change risks undermining all the progress Myanmar had made in recent years to end the illegal wildlife trade.

Rare footage caught by FFI camera traps showed the “treasure trove” of species in Myanmar’s forests, the group said.

“We must do everything we can to protect them.”

© Agence France-Presse