The commercial farming and trade of endangered species leads to extirpation of those species
Rising affluence in urban areas of Vietnam has brought increased demand for wildlife products from consumers. Contradictory government policies have sought to encourage farming and the commercial trade of wildlife while trying to protect those very same species in nature. Furthermore, some policies have been implemented without proper consideration for the impacts that legal trade can have on Vietnam’s biodiversity.
Bear in Phuc Tho bear farms
Proponents of the commercial farming and trade of wildlife claim that it contributes to economic development, reduces pressure on wild populations of species and secures a genetic resource for conservation. Many private farmers keeping endangered species like tigers and bears claim that they are doing so for purposes of “conservation”.
Those opposed to commercial farming and trade of wildlife argue that commercialization of endangered wildlife in Vietnam will result in the extirpation of endangered species both locally and in neighboring countries.
ENV likewise concludes that the commercial farming and trade of endangered species will lead to extirpation of those species and a degradation of Vietnam’s environmental biodiversity, and strongly supports those who call for the prohibition of commercial farming and trade of endangered species. ENV’s position is derived from the following points:
- Law enforcement agencies cannot distinguish between legal and illegal products in the marketplace during their inspections leading to confusion and uncertainty, and ultimately opportunities for criminals to circumvent the law.
- Another common practice for consumer establishments is to re-use a permit over and over again while it is still valid allowing for the trade of many more animals then originally permitted.
- It’s very difficult to manage and supervise establishments that supply to consumers because they often store and pack discreetly wildlife products during transport and at business premises, and the products are only available upon request. As a result it is a challenge for authorities to keep track of the trade, hunting and transfer of wildlife and wildlife products.
Management of farms
- During ENV’s recent investigation of a sample of wildlife farms in Vietnam, both laundering of wildlife and widespread abuse of regulations were found involving both farmers and local authorities.
- Lack of accurate records and management of numbers of animals were commonly found at farms including records of births and deaths, in addition to the widespread forging of transportation papers (a transportation paper is a list of forest products approved by the FPD. It also serves as the permit showing legal origins of animals).
- Effective management of wildlife farms is well beyond the capacity of responsible agencies presently, especially for endangered species. This is best illustrated in recent cases involving licensed farms laundering pangolins, selling bear cubs, and convicted tiger traders being issued legal permits to keep tigers. ENV’s 2015 wildlife farming study further illustrates the widespread laundering and abuse of regulations within farms that licensed to commercially trade wildlife in Vietnam (see below).
ENV’s farming investigation report in 26 wildlife farms in Vietnam has shown that:
- 100% (26/26) of surveyed farms showing signs of laundering wild animals from nature.
- 55% (16/26) of farms admitted that they laundered wild animals
- 76% (14/18) of farms revealed that FPD officials took offered bribes from the farms in question.
- 89% (17/19) of farms sold transportation papers.
- 91% (10/11) of farms bought transportation papers from other farms or from FPD officials.
- 100% (18/18) of farms purchased wild animals without transportation papers.
- 100% (14/14) of farms sold wildlife without transportation papers.
- By making formally prohibited products available in the market, consumption of those products will likely increase.
- Proponents of legalizing the trade of wildlife products like rhino horn argue that rhino horn produced from legal sources can meet market demand. However, once a legal trade is established, the availability of rhino horn on the market would most likely stimulate demand from people who currently do not use, and would not otherwise purchase rhino products. This increase in demand could easily exceed legal production resulting in accelerated hunting and poaching of rhinos from the wild.
Impact on conservation
- There is an inherent conflict between conservation of endangered species and commercial farming of these species. Conservation seeks to preserve biodiversity for the future benefit of all. Commercial farming is intended to operate as a business and produce income. In order to do so profitably, farmers must select species that are economically viable (can breed successfully, have generally fast growth rates, and are profitable in the market when investment costs are considered).
However, the reality is that few farmers have an understanding of the species they seek to farm nor are they prepared to invest in the facilities and management needed to operate a legal facility. More than often, lack of knowledge of proper breeding methods results in inbreeding or cross-breeding between subspecies rendering offspring as having no value to conservation. Likewise, captive born animals lack basic survival skills that would permit them to persist in nature in the event that reintroduction should become necessary. Most of today’s licensed wildlife farmers opt for the more profitable approach of obtaining or supplementing captive populations with wild caught animals illegally.
Vietnamese wildlife farmers are neither scientists nor conservationists. Their priority is to make money, not conserving wildlife.
- The above point is illustrated by the commercial farming and trade of the Siamese crocodile. The development of Siamese crocodile farming is widely credited with the extirpation of the Siamese crocodile in Vietnam, and the drastic reduction of wild populations in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Despite the successful growth of crocodile farming in Vietnam, wild crocodiles continue to be hunted and killed to support a parallel illegal trade of the species. As a consequence, wild populations of the species continue to decline and Vietnam has been forced to reintroduction of crocodiles to some of their former habitats (Bau Sau, Cat Tien), at great public expense.
- Endangered species should be fully protected under the law and should never be commercially farmed under any circumstances. This is due to the fact that the remaining wild populations of these species are very low, and that exploitation of wild-sourced animals for initial breeding stock alone may lead them to extirpation.
- Conservation breeding of endangered species, if necessary, should be limited to specific conservation projects and facilities, staffed by scientists and experts, and run under the oversight of the government, these facilities prohibited from any form of commercial trade of animals or their parts and derivatives.
In summary, any policy relating to the loss of biodiversity needs to be carefully and seriously considered before being approved. Farming of even common species should be restricted to species for which scientists have concluded that commercial farming of the species will have no detrimental impact on wild populations. Permits should only be issued for farming of species for which an impact assessment has been completed and for which legal exploitation for breeding stock and some margin of expected and continued illegal hunting are considered sustainable.