The Wildlife Justice Commission publishes today a new report, To skin a cat: How organised crime capitalises and exploits captive tiger facilities, examining the role of tiger facilities in enabling tiger-related wildlife crime in Southeast Asia. The report includes the findings of Operation Ambush, a six-year investigation into tiger-related crime in the Greater Mekong Subregion. It also identifies intelligence gaps and suggests 11 recommendations for law enforcement and policy makers to tackle the illegal tiger trade.
Tigers are classified as a CITES Appendix I species, meaning they are threatened with extinction. Despite this, the world’s biggest cat is still being trafficked to meet an unrelenting demand for traditional medicine, jewellery, décor, and pets.
The Wildlife Justice Commission’s findings suggest that tiger farms in the Greater Mekong region – especially in Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam – present a significant threat to the survival of tigers across Southeast Asia. And contrary to claims that captive tiger breeding facilities promote and encourage conservation, the Wildlife Justice Commission’s findings suggest the opposite; tiger farming actually perpetuates the supply and demand for the illegal tiger trade run by organised crime networks.
The Wildlife Justice Commission also identified numerous organised crime networks which supply the entire spectrum of the illegal tiger trade, ranging from canines and claws to skin and bones, and even live tigers. It found that organised crime networks operating in Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam are central to supplying the demands of the illegal tiger trade throughout Southeast Asia.
How can we use this momentum moving forward?
As a result of collaborative efforts between the Wildlife Justice Commission and law enforcement agencies in Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam, Operation Ambush successfully dismantled well-established criminal networks, and resulted in the arrests of 18 individuals and the seizure of a live tiger cub – which originated from a farmed source.
But more must be done to protect tigers and other big cats:
- Corruption continues to facilitate tiger- and wildlife-related crime; any efforts to address illegal wildlife trade must go hand-in-hand with efforts to fight corruption.
- Tiger trafficking also continues to be enabled by a lack of domestic policies on non-native species, such as ligers, and by a tolerance for captive breeding facilities and commercial trade. We encourage countries impacted by the trade to act on even broader enforcement and legislative improvements.
“The intelligence and evidence collected through Operation Ambush clearly demonstrates that transnational organised crime networks continue to prosper from the exploitation of captive tiger facilities. However, it represents only a fraction of the activity occurring within the illegal tiger trade in the Greater Mekong region,” warns Wildlife Justice Commission’s Executive Director, Olivia Swaak-Goldman. “The solution cannot be achieved by one country or organisation alone. Gaps can only be closed by sharing intelligence, collaborating on investigations, and committing to ending the illegal tiger trade together.”