Three tigers were found killed near a protected forest zone in Laos early this week, drawing renewed attention to the presence in the country of so-called tiger farms, where the animals are kept for sale in spite of wildlife trafficking bans, sources say.
The dead animals were discovered by forestry officials in an area near the Nam Theun 2 dam in Khammouane province’s Nhommalath district, an official of the province’s wildlife protection department told RFA’s Lao Service this week.
“We found them in Nhommalath near a protected forest in the area of the dam, so they may have come from the forest or from tiger farms somewhere in the province,” the official told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“These are big animals. This will take a long time to investigate,” the official said, adding that traffickers may have been transporting the tigers to border crossings with Vietnam when the animals died.
In a report released last year, the World Wildlife Fund listed three tiger farms now operating in Laos, with one located in Khammouane’s Thakhek district, one in Bolikhamxay province, and the third in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, with the three farms together holding a total of 500 tigers.
All three are privately operated and operate under special permits issued before Laos joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2014, Lao wildlife protection officials told RFA.
And though Laos announced at an international conference in London in September 2016 that it would close all tiger farms within a year, the country’s trade in tigers has since boomed, with at least five farms now in operation, the U.K. Daily Mail on Sunday said in a Dec. 30, 2017 report.
At least 700 tigers are now held in captivity in the farms, with tiger products such as meat, bone, bone wine, and even live tigers now offered for sale at luxury hotels in the capital Vientiane and in Chinese special economic zones (SEZs), the Daily Mail said.
A memo sent on Jan. 5, 2018 by the Lao prime minister’s office to various government departments now calls for better protection of the country’s wildlife and improved cooperation with CITES agreements aimed at blocking trafficking in endangered species, RFA has learned.
An estimated 25 tigers still live in the wild in Laos, most in protected forest areas, sources say.