The relevance of WWF’s recent call for elevated action to end poaching — the main cause of the tiger’s decline — cannot be stressed more profoundly as by the latest news from Vietnam.
One year after the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg the number of wild tigers in Vietnam has shrunk to fewer than 50, said Le Xuan Canh, director of the Vietnam Institute of Ecology and Biological Resource. While a decade ago around 100 tigers roamed the Vietnamese landscape. Whether or not this is a first output of the Hanoi workshop in August this year on implementation of monitoring the Global Tiger Recovery Plan, the news is depressing.
Mr. Canh blamed poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, deforestation and infrastructure development for the dramatic decline in tiger numbers. Unfortunately, there is evidence that Vietnam is a kind of a hub for trade in endangered species, which is accompanied by endemic poaching.
In two unrelated incidents four Vietnamese have been arrested and high numbers of endangered species body parts were confiscated. Two persons were arrested on 22nd December 2011 in south Africa at Johannesburg Airport (O.R. Tambo International) while trying to smuggle rhino horn and ivory out of the country. O.R. Tambo International Airport is increasingly being used by Vietnamese smugglers to get illegal products out of the country. Another two were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City during a raid by the local police, after the police intervened in a sale of a tiger skeleton between these two men. Included in the items confiscated were 6 lion skeletons, two tigers skeletons soaked in wine, a tigers head, a bear skeleton, 6 pairs of bull horns, a rhino horn, 4 pairs of elephant tusks, 3 elephant tails, and 5 kilogrammes of monkey bones. It shows how big an impact a few people can have on species that under threat.
With the Javan Rhino in Vietnam as an example — it has recently been declared extinct in the wild -, these findings are a bad omen for many other species. It may lead to extinction of many other species in the next decade, including animals such as the tiger and the elephant.
Immediate action is necessary. Poaching should be made not profitable by increasing the probability of detection and prison sentence. In addition, microchips should be implanted in wild tigers and tiger protection zones should be established in national parks, according scientists at a meeting organised by the Vietnamese Department of Forest Management this week.
Furthermore, reduction of the demand for tigers and their parts is essential, because that is presently fuelling the poaching. This requires educating people that many of the medicines and good luck charms made from animals do not work, and therefore that conserving species is much more important than traditional medicines or having endangered species parts on display as a status symbol. The Vietnamese wildlife organisation Wildlife at Risk (WAR) focuses on education of young people about wildlife conservation with their recently launched travelling road-show to 40 secondary schools in Ho Chi Minh City.