Illegal wildlife parts trade thrives in Kachin’s Puta-o
Despite intensified nationwide efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade, Putao — a remote town in conflict-torn Kachin State that borders China — is a hotbed of the illicit activity, according to sources who saw first-hand the body parts of endangered animals being sold open in markets and other public places.
Wildlife species’ body parts are available in Puta-o Bazaar, shops near Puta-o Airport and a bazaar at Mulashide village located near the town, according to activists.
“Mostly the meat of barking deer and boar are being sold in the market,” said an official of the Forest Department of Puta-o who asked not to be named. “Many local people still think that they are allowed to sell wildlife parts.”
Ko Moe Aung, who visited Puta-o earlier in the week, said he was surprised at how brazen and brisk the illegal wildlife trade is in the area.
He posted on his Facebook account on Tuesday photographs of body parts of wild animals sold in public places and markets. Seen in the photo are the body parts of bear, deer, birds and other unidentifiable animals.
“I hope we can really stop this illegal trade,” told The Myanmar Times.
Puta-o town is near the Hkakaborazi National Park, which is in line for listing as a world heritage site. Activists suspect the wildlife parts traded in the town came from the protected area.
The local Forestry Department has erected signboards with letters warning local residents that illegal wildlife trade is punishable under the Forest Law.
But local residents protested the warning and threatened forestry officials with bodily harm. The department capitulated and removed the sign.
The residents also protested against the planned extension of the national park, which they said would reduce the area where they make their livelihoods, according to the department official.
The Hkakaborazi National Park, which covers about 1400 square miles, was established in 1996. It is home to diverse plant and animal species, with 24 critically endangered mammals living the region. It borders Kachin state of Myanmar and China.
Some of the threatened species include red panda, red goral, takin, musk deer, Himalayan bear, serow and blue sheep, which are often traded at high prices on the black market.
An environmentalist who is involved in conservation work in Puta-o has criticised the town Forest Department for not being able to curb the illegal trade.
He urged non-governmental organisations and the government to do more to mitigate the threat to wildlife.
“The illegal traders have become emboldened and the present campaign is not enough to stop the wildlife trade. They should be pragmatic,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
Both the official and the environmentalist The Myanmar Times spoke with are based in Puta-o.
The official and the environmentalist agreed that the booming illicit trade is linked to the widespread poverty in the region.
Being one of the areas in the region affected by armed conflict and lack of development, residents have to rely on traditional ways to make a living, such as by hunting wildlife and selling them, they said.
To combat the illicit wildlife trade and cut the ties that bind them to hunting animals in the forest, alternative business opportunities must be provided for local people.
U Aung Kham, general secretary of Jing Phaw Literature and Culture Committee in Puta-o, said government should bring in business opportunities if it wants to protect wildlife.
“We want government support for SMEs or job opportunities for our region. If we have better jobs than hunting, nobody will go to the forest and bear hardships to earn a living by hunting,” he said.
He urged the government to focus the crackdown on illegal wildlife trade not only on preserving the country’s natural heritage but also on alleviating poverty, especially providing alternative livelihood for the people so that they stop their environmentaly harmful ways of earning a living.
By hunting wildlife, local residents earn money easily, which, according to U Aung Kham, contributes to the inaction of local officials.
“I have never seen someone who is selling be arrested or face action by the Forest Department. Local civil society organisations cannot do anything about it,” he said.
For now, the government is trying to reach an agreement with local residents on plans to list Hkakaborazi National Park as a world heritage site and to extend the park’s southern area, said U Win Naing Thaw, director of the Forest Department’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division.
Source: Myanmar Times 16 March 2018