It’s easy to vilify communist regimes. Their mantra over the past two decades has been development at any cost, leading to unprecedented environmental damage, greed and corruption on a massive scale.
The region’s wildlife has born a hefty price for unbridled development, and alerting the Vietnamese or Laos over the plight of their Sun bears, remaining elephants and disappearing tiger populations has frequently fallen on deaf ears.
There are, however, strong signals that this is changing, and that environmental awareness from the outside is now not always seen as a guise for Western meddling in another country’s affairs.
This was evident at a joint conference in Vietnam’s Quang Tri Province and Savannakhet Province in neighbouring Laos earlier this week, when the two countries vowed to crack down on wildlife smuggling across their mutual border.
Essentially, the two sides will share information and regulations in regards to the wild animal trade and strengthen bilateral cooperation between law enforcement agencies.Vietnam readily admitted the agreement was struck because animal smuggling across its borders had become a hot issue, causing concern within the international community. Scientists are warning that between 14 percent and 42 percent of Southeast Asian wildlife could disappear this century if authorities fail to curb the smuggling rackets.
Quang Tri and Savannakhet share a 208-kilometre border that has proved popular with smugglers and illegal hunters who were coordinating with trans-national criminal networks, officials said.
They added that rare wild animals faced a ‘high risk of extinction’ due to poaching.
The announcement was timely, coming just before police in Thailand arrested a 49-year-old man suspected of being a key player in one of Thailand's largest-ever tiger trafficking rings, operating over land routes between China, Laos and Vietnam.
Wildlife experts say the number of tigers in Asia has fallen sharply in recent years due to habitat loss and poaching. Skins and body parts are sold to medicinal and souvenir markets, mainly in China.
Last year, authorities a found a tiger cub that had been drugged and hidden alongside a stuffed toy tiger in the suitcase of a Thai woman flying to Iran from Bangkok's international airport. Earlier this month, officers caught a 36-year-old man from the United Arab Emirates bound for Dubai with suitcases filled with drugged wildlife, including baby leopards, panthers, a bear and monkeys.
The Vietnamese government says it has implemented strategies to prevent the exploitation and smuggling of wild animals, and succeeded in dismantling international smuggling rings amid another crackdown in 2009 and 2010. In Quang Tre alone, it says arrests were made in connection with more than 4,000 violations over the past five years.
Obtaining independent confirmation of figures out of either country is difficult at the best of times. They are, however, heading in the right direction.