The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pleiku, A Poacher's Wildlife Trafficking Paradise

I recently visited Pleiku in the Central Highlands. Its a nice enough town--some great shops with authentic hilltribes handicrafts (actually Pleiku & Buon Ma Thuat are really the only cities in Vietnam where you can buy authentic crafts from CH tribes in shops), a great museum, and plenty of modern conveniences. Its a big city. The province has great potential if the powers that be would actually open it up to tourism. Unfortunately foreign tourists aren't allowed to venture outside the city & major highways on their own.

One thing that was rather appalling however, were all the shops selling endangered species products opening... and these aren't just any old endangered species products like you'd find in well-touristed cities, as you'll see below.

An unfortunately common site in Vietnam--a stuffed Leopard or Marbled Cat.

Above are the teeth extracted from Asian Black Bears and Moon Bears. Scrupulous Vietnamese poachers catch wild bears to "milk" them for their bile (used in "Chinese" medicine). The process involves boring a hole into their stomach and inserting a tube. The wound never heals.  Their teeth and claws are ripped from their bodies while alive, both to make them less dangerous to keep, and to sell the parts as souvenir & luck charms. The bears are kept in tiny cages and live in constant pain and torment. Most captive bears can never be rehabilitated. They go insane from the torture. Unfortunately the Vietnam government has legalized bear "farming." While it is illegal to take bears from the wild for this purpose, this is nonetheless where most farmed bears come from.

In the center are bear claws. Normally polished claws like this are fakes, but (though difficult to see in this photo), the claws here demonstrate natural groves, and discolorations not present in fakes (which are made from plastic or buffalo horn). The rings above each contain a black elephant tail hair visible from the sides but not the top here. These rings are not technically illegal--elephants don't need to be killed to extract their tail hair. But it is nonetheless cruel and unpleasant for the elephant to have these thick wire-like hair pulled from his tail--and he's left with nothing to swat the flies on his ass either.

These reddish-brown brick-like cakes are particularly disgusting. They are a shame and blight on the local culture. There are several kinds depending upon what kind of animal are used, but essentially they are made from grinding the bones and marrow of primates (monkeys like macaques or langurs and gibbons). Others are made from Asian Black Bears and Sun Bears (their bones).

Rhino skin. This was certainly the most shocking--the skin (two pieces visible--large upright on the right, and small horizontal on the left) of a Javan Rhino--one of the rarest mammals in the world. A Javan Rhino--one of the last in Vietnam--was recently killed in Cat Tien National Park by poachers. Notice how thick the skin is.

The dried stomachs of "forest cows" which are either highly endangered Gaur or Gayal.

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