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The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand report, released in the lead up to the the International Tiger Forum, which takes place next week in St Petersburg, Russia, documents black market sales of large wild felines. Live big cats, including endangered tigers and a rare Asiatic lion were observed in trade. Hundreds of tiger and leopard parts, representing over 400 individual animals, were also observed during nearly a decade of investigations in Myanmar and Thailand.

The report is accompanied by a short documentary called Closing a Deadly Gateway that illustrates the illegal trade described in the report. The film shows interviews with poachers and alarming footage of butchered tigers.

With as few as 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, the ongoing large-scale trade cannot be taken lightly. Illegal trade poses the most immediate and dire threat to the survival of tigers. Moreover, it puts all Asia's big felines at serious risk," noted TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Regional Director, William Schaedla. "Wildlife laws in Myanmar and Thailand clearly prohibit trafficking in tigers and other big cats. We urge authorities to bring the full weight of the law to bear upon traffickers."

Tiger populations in the Greater Mekong-an area that includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam-have plummeted from an estimated 1,200 during the last Year of the Tiger in 1998 to about 350 today.

Provincial markets and retail outlets at the Myanmar towns of Mong La, near the China border and Tachilek, on the Thai border, were found to play a pivotal role in the large scale distribution of big cat parts including whole skins, bones, paws, penises, and teeth. The products are transported by road and sea into China and Thailand or sold to Chinese nationals who cross the Myanmar border to gamble and consume exotic wildlife.

The report comes as tiger range State governments, including representatives from Myanmar, China, and Thailand, are expected to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"A critical part of saving wild tigers must be to shut down the illegal trade in tiger parts," said Michael Baltzer, head of WWF's Tigers Alive initiative. "With all the tiger range countries convening this month in Russia for a groundbreaking summit on the future of the tiger, illegal trade such as this must stay front and centre in the negotiations."

The majority of illegal trade in tigers and other wildlife through Myanmar occurs in non-government controlled areas between northern Myanmar and southern China. The fact that these areas maintain their own governments not linked to Myanmar's capital poses a difficulty in co-ordinating effective enforcement action.

"There is an urgent need to step up efforts if the region is to save its declining tiger populations. We need to enhance information gathering and ensure government and non-government agencies share information in transparent and timely ways from the local level to the regional scale," said Peter Cutter, Coordinator for WWF Greater Mekong Region's tiger conservation in Thailand. "Alarmingly, the landscape between Myanmar and Thailand holds the greatest hope for tiger population recovery in this region but this can only happen if there are unprecedented and co-ordinated regional efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade."

Wildlife traders in Myanmar's non-government controlled areas reported that high profit margins, corrupt authorities and little fear of recrimination enables them to trade openly in prohibited wildlife. While local communities are sometimes involved, they are rarely major drivers of the illegal activities.

TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Director, William Schaedla, summarized the problem. "The area is struggling with governance and tigers are easy money for everyone from mafia types to anti-government opposition groups. Some of these players should be countered with direct enforcement actions. Others might be receptive to work through regional agreements and international bodies in order to address the problem."

For further information please contact:
Jo Sargent, Senior Press Officer, WWF-UK
Tel: 01483 412 375
Mobile: 07867 697 519

To download the report visit:

High-res photos from the report visit:

The film Closing the Deadly Gateway - clips will be uploaded to this site later today:

B-roll footage of tigers and tiger trade:

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF. Across Asia, TRAFFIC works to support government agencies in law enforcement networking to combat illegal wildlife trade. Technical assistance across the enforcement continuum, including facilitation of inter-governmental dialogues, engaging the judicial sector, and working with WWF to improve linkages from national level agencies to field-based rangers, is provided on demand to member countries of the ASEAN and South Asia Wildlife Enforcement networks, as well as to China and its immediate neighbours.

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. for latest news and media resources