An international wildlife trade monitoring group says Laos has been linked to several high-value seizures of illegal wildlife, asking authorities in the Southeast Asian state to beef up vigilance at its airports.
Traffic, the U.K.-based nongovernmental organization that tracks the illegal wildlife trade in Asia, made the call Tuesday following the seizure of rare baby tortoises en route to Laos at a Paris airport last month.
It said in a statement that Laos was implicated as the source, transit or destination country of at least nine high-value international wildlife seizures in 2014, although the country itself reported no major such seizures during the year.
“The composition of wildlife seizures implicating Lao PDR [People’s Democratic Republic] in 2014 highlights that the country is a major conduit for the trafficking of high value and highly threatened wildlife,” said Sarah Stoner, Traffic’s senior wildlife crime analyst in Southeast Asia.
Last year, Traffic identified Laos as a major source of illegal wildlife products such as bear bile.
The group cited a Dec. 14 case in which French customs officers discovered 170 baby Radiated Tortoises wrapped in tape and hidden in a secret compartment of a crate en route to Laos via Paris. The tortoises are found only in Madagascar and prized by collectors for their unique shell patterns.
But their commercial international trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.
Traffic called on Lao authorities to increase vigilance at Wattay International Airport in the capital Vientiane and other international points of entry and exit to curb the illegal wildlife trade.
Laos shares borders with five other countries notorious for wildlife crime—Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Greater cooperation with neighboring countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, to develop intelligence-led investigations is also essential to disrupt organized and transnational wildlife crime,” the statement said.
“Traffic also believes collaboration with the wider CITES community is needed to ensure Lao PDR deters illegal wildlife trade, rather than enabling it.”
Traffic also noted that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2012 highlighted Lao’s “extreme vulnerability” to various forms of transnational organized crime, including the trafficking of wildlife.
‘Importance to watch’
Last month, CITES identified Laos as one of three parties of “importance to watch” over its role in the global ivory trade.
Laos has never reported an ivory seizure to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a database of global ivory and elephant product seizures managed by Traffic on behalf of parties to CITES, the statement said.
The nine seizures, which occurred outside Laos but implicated the country in some way, all pointed to global trafficking routes being exploited for the transport of illegally sourced African wildlife into Asia as well as the trafficking of Asian species within the region, the statement said.
Other illegal wildlife trafficking incidents that involved Laos in 2014 included black rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks and ivory, turtles, snakes, tigers, and pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters.