The intention by the Government of Laos to phase out its tiger farms — announced at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) last week in Johannesburg, South Africa — is a major step in fighting the illegal wildlife trade, the WWF said Thursday.
Amongst its recommendations, the latest CITES report highlights critical gaps in legislative coverage, inadequate law enforcement and the need to work with neighbouring countries to address the trans-boundary trafficking of species.
CITES decision 14.69 imposes to countries signatory to the convention that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives. In announcing the decision to phase out tiger farms, official representatives of the Lao delegation reportedly said: “We support the retention of Decision 14.69 as a valid decision and urge all parties to implement it as a matter of urgency, as we intend to do so”.
“WWF-Laos welcomes the move by the Lao government to close its tiger farms. It is high time that the illegal trafficking of wildlife is dealt with for good. The task of closing tiger farms in Laos will require cooperation from multiple agencies and WWF-Laos stands ready to provide technical assistance to tackle this task head-on, and is willing to start working with the Lao government on a detailed phase-out plan of all illegal tiger farms in the country,” said Somphone Bouasavanh, WWF-Laos Country Director.
“This is a great moment for Laos to show regional leadership in the fight against illegal wildlife crime, and that this commitment will translate into a model that can be followed by other countries to close down their tiger farms,” continued Bouasavanh.
WWF currently supports an anti-wildlife crime programme in the Greater Mekong Region, including in the Lao PDR, where illegal wildlife trade markets have recently made international news. The overall objective of this programme is to effectively reduce demand for illegal wildlife products as well as to improve ranger training and to develop new technologies for reporting illegal wildlife trade.
“Laos’ announcement that it will phase out its tiger farms is a welcome first step that needs to be followed with decisive action,” said Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s chief advisor on wildlife, during the CITES convention last week.
There are an estimated 700 tigers bred in three facilities in Laos. Phasing out their operations will need effective cooperation between all relevant Government agencies and their development partners.
A major concern will be what to do with the tigers in those farms to ensure that they are well cared for in accredited facilities and do not end up in the illegal wildlife trade chain.
Eventually, this represents a significant opportunity for Laos to return to the prestigious list of tiger-range countries by investigating the potential for releasing some of these tigers in National Biodiversity Conservation Areas, “re-wilding” the forests of Laos.
This also represents an opportunity for Laos to investigate the possibility of a tiger reintroduction programme in selected National Biodiversity Conservation Areas.