Unchecked Wildlife Trade In Laos’ Chinese Controlled Sin City
On March 19, 2015, the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report on how the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ) in Bokeo Province of Laos has effectively become a lawless playground.
Photo: Dan Bennett/Public Domain.
Undercover investigators from EIA and its partner Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) combed through the complex and documented the open sale of endangered species products including tiger, leopard, elephant and rhino derivatives. The investigators also discovered that endangered species such as pangolins and bears were on the menu of numerous restaurants. One business kept a live python and a bear cub in cages, both of which were available to eat on request.
The GT SEZ is operated by the Chinese company Kings Romans Group, which has an 80 per cent stake in the operation. The Government of Laos holds the remaining 20 per cent stake and has declared it a duty-free area, giving it political patronage at the highest level. The complex includes a casino, hotel, shops, a shooting range and massage parlours. Though it falls in Laos, the complex functions as an extension of China; it runs on Beijing time, signs are in Mandarin, most workers are Chinese nationals and the Chinese yuan is the main currency. Chinese nationals are permitted to visit with just an identity card rather than a passport.
Other than the existing, illegal wildlife trade underway, the complex has ambitious plans for the manufacture of tiger bone wine. EIA/ENV found four tigers at the GT SEZ in mid-2014 but by February 2015 the number had risen to 35; a senior keeper revealed the goal is to acquire a total of 50 females for breeding to increase the population to 500 tigers within three years and to 1,000 in the long term to produce tiger bone wine for consumption at the GT SEZ and for export to China, via Yunnan.
The report calls for the Government of Laos to immediately establish a multi-agency task force to tackle illegal wildlife trade at the GT SEZ and across the country, and to seize all illegal wildlife products at the GT SEZ. It further calls on the Government of China to investigate connections between Chinese businesses and traders operating at the GT SEZ and wildlife criminals operating between Laos, Myanmar and China, and to cooperate with international counterparts to disrupt criminal networks.
Debbie Banks, EIA Head of Tigers Campaign, said: “The Government of China urgently needs to recognise the immense damage this place does to its international reputation and to take meaningful action to rein in a Chinese company which is, in effect, running amuck with impunity in a neighbouring country with weak governance.”
Source: Environmental Investigation Agency
Read & download Sin City: Illegal Wildlife Trade in Laos’ Special Economic Zone.
Read More: The Wildlife Crime Nexus.