Illegal wildlife trade along the Burma-China border - in pictures (full set)

My photo story which exposes the illegal wildlife trade taking place on both sides of the Burma-China border was published in The Guardian newspaper today.

They used eleven of my photos in their Environment section. Here's the full set.

Illegal Wildlife Trade in Mong La, Shan State Special Region Four, Burma

MONG LA, SHAN STATE SPECIAL REGION FOUR, BURMA - The town of Mong La in Burma's Shan state, close to the border with China, is at the crossroads of illegal wildlife trade routes that are sucking the forests, jungles and plains of India, Burma, Laos and Thailand dry of their native animals and plants – many of them endangered.

Mong La is a notorious sin city of a border town, a lawless black hole where the trafficking of arms, drugs and women is rife. In order to reach it, you have to travel illegally by motorbike across an international border, along a bumpy dirt track that winds its way through rubber plantations and leafy jungle.

It takes around 20 minutes, and along the way you pass impromptu checkpoints set up by local people, ethnic militia and the National Democratic Alliance army, before finally being admitted by Burmese government troops.

I spent the day exploring the illegal wildlife markets and restaurants, but it was only after exiting Burma in the late afternoon that I realised that the real story was to be found on the Chinese side of the border.

At the market in Mong La, a Noah's ark of endangered animal products can be bought, including tiger skins, thick chunks of elephant hide and tusks, pangolin scales, clouded leopard pelts, flying squirrels, masked palmed civet cat, Asiatic moon bear skins, and Tibetan antelope skulls.

For example a tiger skin for sale in Mong La can be bought for around RMB50,000 (£4,700). But over the border in China, that same skin can fetch upwards of RMB200,000 (£18,900).

Many of those same items were also available in the Chinese border town of Daluo, but marked up significantly.

The illegal wildlife trade in Burma is nothing new.

For decades, NGOs and governments have known the Burmese border regions with China are a problem area.

[Elephant hide.]

[Pangolin scales.]

[Masked palm civet, sold as bushmeat.]

[A giant flying squirrel and green pigeons. Both endangered.]

[Flying squirrel.]

[Ivory for sale.]

[Blocks of ivory for sale as investment.]

[Tiger claws made of ivory, with Burmese and Thai currency notes.]

[A general view of the town of Mong La.]

[Asiatic black bear, with clouded leaopard cat.]

[A monkey for sale as a menu item at a wildlife restaurant in Mong La.]


Illegal Wildlife Trade in Daluo, Yunnan Province, China 

DALUO, YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA - What's not known, however, is how a thriving illegal market in the body parts of critically endangered species for Chinese medicine can flourish within just a few metres from China's official border crossing with Burma – on the Chinese side.

[Tourist guides offer tours of the "Golden Triangle Scenic Area", just in front of the Chinese border post at Daluo.]

[Pangolin scales.]

The inconvenience and risk of getting to Mong La has prompted this parallel market in illegal wildlife trade products to spring up, catering to disappointed tourists who may feel comfortable buying illegal wildlife products, but are averse to evading the China government's formalities of immigration and customs checks.

[Fake tiger claw, bear gall bladder and sex pills.]

The Chinese government has for decades has been a friend and ally of the ethnic militias along its Burmese border.

But since the opening up of Burma, and the arrival of a more open government, China's traditional support for those militias has waned, and so now China is supporting the official Burmese government in Naypiydaw.

[Fake tiger paw.]

[Bear bile, bear gall bladder (top) and elephant skin for sale in Daluo.]

This shift has seen Mong La dropped from the list of designated tourist destinations approved by the tourism bureau of the Chinese province that borders Burma, Yunnan.

Consequently, disappointed tourists headed to Mong La are being turned back at the border, and instead some of them make do with the market in Daluo to buy their illegal wildlife products.

[Slow loris feet key rings.]

One trader in Daluo, who refused to give her name, said: “If the police come, we just hide these things.

As long as [these illegal wildlife parts] are not on public view it is OK. We just put it all back out for sale when the police have gone.”



All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011