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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Police bust Yangon restaurant for illegally selling pangolins


By Ei Ei Toe Lwin
September 12 - 18, 2011
THE illicit trade in pangolins for food and traditional medicine is a growing problem in Myanmar, officials acknowledged last week, as a wildlife group said the anteater has become the most trafficked mammal in Southeast Asia.
In the past 18 months, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry charged six individuals for attempting to smuggle eight live pangolins and 245 viss (about 400 kilograms) of pangolin scales out of the country.
Another 13 live pangolins were discovered at San Chuan Restaurant on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road in Bahan township in March 2010. The ministry searched the premises after receiving a tip-off and subsequently arrested the owner of the restaurant, although it is not known whether they were convicted. However, this likely represents just a small amount of the overall trade in pangolins, government officials and environment groups say.
“Wildlife traffickers are increasingly targeting pangolins, to export either live or for parts,” said U Nay Myo Shwe, a range officer at the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. “Poachers are after them more and more because of the high demand from China, where people eat the meat and use the scales for traditional medicine.”
Two species of pangolin, known in Myanmar language as thin khwe chat, are found in Myanmar: the Chinese pangolin (Manis pantadactyla) and Malayan pangolin (Manis javanica).
Both are protected under the Protection of Wild Animals, Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law promulgated in 1994 and those convicted face up to seven years imprisonment and a fine of K50,000.
U Nay Myo Shwe said International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ 16th member conference in Bangkok in November, ASEAN countries would recommend the pangolin be given greater protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“We plan to propose the pangolin be put on CITES appendix (I),” he said. “This is a problem not only in Myanmar but also in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Additionally, the ministry plans to change the 1994 anti-trafficking law to increase the fine for those caught trading protected wildlife. “K50,000 is not enough anymore, it’s too low to deter anyone,” he said. U Soe Nyunt, president of the Myanmar Birds and Nature Society, said the pangolin was one of “many” species that were being illegally trafficked out of Myanmar.
“I think the punishment for traffickers is too weak. If we don’t do something soon more and more wildlife will become extinct. The ministry should check whether the court really did punish the traffickers according to the law or not.”
U Win Naing Thaw, director of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, said the government had reorganised the National Wildlife Enforcement Network in May to make it more effective.
“Some organisations say that the Myanmar government is weak in stopping the illegal trade in live animals and parts … but most of the trade is taking place in eastern Shan State because it is difficult for us to police the region because of insurgents and instability,” he said. “We try to restrict [trade] at border checkpoints and make arrests when we get tip offs.”

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