Authorities in the Luang Prabang province of northern Laos have stepped up controls over the sale of ivory, rhinoceros horn, and other illegal wildlife products, seizing large quantities of banned goods over the last three years and warning Chinese tourists against their purchase, sources say.
More than 200 kilograms of prohibited wildlife products were confiscated in Luang Prabang in 2017, 2018, and 2019, an official from the province’s Agriculture and Forestry Department told RFA’s Lao Service at the end of the year.
“We seized most of these items from souvenir stores owned by Chinese who come to Laos to set up their businesses, and we have told them to stop selling these things,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Now there is no more ivory, rhino horn, or tiger bone on display for sale, and facsimile items made from rubber or plastic are also banned,” the official said, adding that though stores are now closely watched and inspected, “these items are very small.”
“They can easily hide them in their pockets or in bags, and then sell them,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a police officer responsible for providing security to tourists said that he and officers of the province’s Forest Inspection Department had met on Dec. 20 with Chinese embassy representatives to discuss the ban.
“We tried to convince tour guides not to take Chinese tourists to souvenir shops to buy ivory bracelets, necklaces, and rings,” he said.
“These foreigners like wildlife parts, especially elephant ivory and rhino and deer horns, and they buy and sell them illegally in secret. If we catch them, they will go to prison,” he said.
Sales prohibited by law
Lao law and international agreements prohibit the sale of products made from wild animals or any parts of the animals themselves, an official of the Luang Prabang Industry and Trade Department told RFA, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If someone displays these items for sale, we will confiscate them right away, and the person doing this will be held responsible for their illegal activity.”
“The tour guides should cooperate with us on this,” he said.
Laos became a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty protecting endangered plants and animals, in May 2004. The convention banned the ivory trade in 1989.
On Jan. 5, 2018, a memo sent by the Lao prime minister’s office to government departments called for improved cooperation with CITES agreements aimed at blocking trafficking in endangered species.
Lao officials have not always enforced laws prohibiting the smuggling or sale of illegal wildlife products in the past, though, with some taking an active part in the trade or paid to look the other way, and sales reportedly continue in Chinese shops in the capital, Vientiane.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.