Demand for exotic creatures widespread.

AuthorHerro, Alana

In September, the Chinese government invited law enforcement officers from Southeast Asia's Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) to meet with local counterparts to address the cross-border illegal wildlife trade. Conservationists applauded the historic move but say there is still much to learn. "It's hard to gauge to what degree the trade may be getting better or worse," says Steven Galster of Thailand's PeunPa Foundation. "This is because monitoring of the trade has gotten better, revealing more flow and leading to more seizures."

Asia is a global hotspot for the illegal trade in wild animals and plants, according to TRAFFIC, a global monitoring network. Factors contributing to the trend include regionally high biodiversity, low public awareness of the problem, and inadequate government attention to addressing it. Eating certain rare animals, such as snakes, pangolins, turtles, and salamanders, is a status symbol for many Chinese. And endangered species products like bear bile, tiger bones, and pangolin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine and can fetch a high price on the market.

But China is not the only country that has an illegal wildlife trade problem. "Americans are some of the world's biggest purchasers in exotic pets," says Galster. He notes that the trophy trade--for tiger skins, rhino heads, and other rarities--is quite large, as is the U.S. market for traditional Chinese medicine. "All in all, China is the number one consumer of wildlife in the world, followed probably by the United States and the EU," Galster concludes.

A new TRAFFIC study, The State of Wildlife Trade in China, describes steps China is taking to reduce wildlife trafficking. The country has been at...

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