Vietnam officials under fire for trying to sell seized tiger paste

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Hanoi – Authorities in central Vietnam were slammed Wednesday for organizing an auction of tiger paste seized from traffickers amid international alarm over the fate of the animal.

'Their actions cannot help to conserve tigers,' said Le Thi Minh Thi, director of Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) in Hanoi, which is trying to halt the planned sale.  'These actions go against Vietnam's strong commitment in the international conference to protect tigers,' she added, referring to a meeting in Russia last month.

Thanh Hoa Province People's Committee on November 19 agreed to allow agencies under its control to organize a public auction of 2.8 kilograms of tiger paste, with a starting price of 50 million dong (2,500 dollars) per kilogram.

Illegal trafficking in tigers and other rare animals is widespread in Vietnam and China, where their bones and other body parts are often used in traditional medicine.  On the black market, each kilogram of tiger paste can sell for up to 10,000 dollars per kilogram.The illegal trade is threatening the survival of the species. In 1998, an estimated 1,200 tigers roamed the Greater Mekong, a region that crosses the borders of Cambodia, Los, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. According to Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, the region's wild tiger population has dwindled to about 350 today.

The actions of Thanh Hoa authorities, 'have helped to legitimize the trading of wild animals' contrary to law, according to Thi.

The government has banned trade in tigers and tiger products, but the prohibition is contradicted by Ministry of Agriculture regulations that allow dealing for health purposes, Thi said.
'That was why Thanh Hoa's authorities said they didn't break any rules,' Thi said. 'They just use loopholes in Vietnamese laws.'

Dec 1, 2010, 5:40 GMT

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