Allowing criminal to keep tigers for “conservation purposes”: A bad joke?
On April 5th, 2016, Vietnam CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) management authority began examining the facilities of Hon Nhan Ecological Conservation Center in Nghe An. If all the requirements are satisfied, the owners will be allowed to import nine more tigers for conservation, reproduction and educational purposes. The alarming fact about this otherwise insignificant event is that the owner of the center is also the wife of Pham Van Tuan—a notorious criminal who has two previous convictions related to the killing and illegal trading of tigers, along with other species of endangered wild animals.
- Full name: Pham Van Tuan
- Residence: Hamlet 3, Dien Lam village, Dien Chau District, Nghe An
- June 2006: Sentenced to 9 months in prison (suspended) and fined 5 million VND for stealing and killing an Indochinese tiger at Dong Tam snake farm in Binh Duc village, Chau Thanh district, Tien Giang.
- November 2010: Sentenced to 30 months in prison (suspended sentence with a 5-year probation period which he is still serving) and fined 10 million VND. The authority had found many frozen wildlife specimens in his possession including various endangered species. Among them were a tiger’s skeleton and a frozen tiger specimen.
According to information gathered by Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), Mrs Nguyen Thi Lien (Pham Van Tuan’s wife and legal representative of Bach Ngoc Lam Co. Ltd) has been permitted by the People’s Committee of Nghe An to keep the tigers for “conservation purposes” since the end of January 2016, and has received 15 tigers from Muong Thanh Wildlife Co. Ltd in Nghe An.
Pham Van Tuan has two previous wildlife convictions related to tigers. At the moment, he is also suspected of conducting illegal wildlife trade (of tigers, pangolins, ivories and rhino horns) across the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
“The opinion of ENV is that granting permission to conserve tigers, along with other endangered species, to an individual who has been twice convicted of wildlife crimes is an inapropriate decision by the authority of Nghe An.” Says Ms. Bui Thi Ha, Vice Director of ENV. “By doing so, they have unintentionally collaborated with Tuan and allowed him to take advantage of a legal loophole to conduct further wildlife violations.”
In the last 30 years, tiger populations in Vietnam and around the world have been in steady decline. According to data provided by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), experts estimate that there are only 3,890 tigers left in the wild, while in Vietnam there is believed to be as few as five individuals left. Meanwhile, illegal tiger trading activities in Vietnam are conducted under the guise of supposedly lawful businesses. According to ENV’s research, the number of tigers that are in captivity in zoos and private farms in recent years has rocketed from 81 individuals in 2010 to 179 individuals in 2015.
Ms. Ha added; “ENV is seriously concerned about the growth of tiger farms in Vietnam. After years of research, ENV is certain of the fact that most tiger farms are not for education nor conservation purposes but merely created to legitimize tiger trading activities. The recent decision by the People’s Committee of Nghe An has effectively put tigers—which should be preserved for educational purposes—into the hands of a notorious tiger tradesman.”
Permits to keep wildlife are being freely granted easily in many provinces. These permits allow possession of endangered, precious, and rare species that are prioritized for protection according to Decree 160/2013/NĐ-CP.
“This is seriously hampering efforts to preserve wildlife in Vietnam,” says Ha. “Which governmental entity will be held responsible if tigers and other endangered wild animals become extinct just like rhinos?”
“The right thing for the People’s Committee of Nghe An to do now is officially revoke Pham Van Tuan and his wife’s permit to keep endangered wildlife. At the same time, they must conduct a thorough investigation to reveal his violations.”