Killing for Traditional Medicine

Wildlife trade means the sale of wild animals or plants - either alive, dead or as processed parts. It includes food such as fruits and fish, forest products, leather and furs or medicinal plants. Wildlife trade can be legal and does not necessarily harm wild animal and plant populations. But wildlife trade can unfold a very destructive force when the demand for certain species increases and leads to overexploitation. After habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade is the second largest threat to the survival of many species. Today, elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers are among the most endangered mammals on earth due to illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss.

Such statements illustrate why many wildlife species are in danger. They are a case in point for the third of five articles about wildlife conservation in Laos in Vientiane Times. This article focuses on some of the threats that endanger the survival of wild animals.

Illegal wildlife trade is a threat to many animals

After drug-trafficking, product piracy and human trafficking, wildlife trade is the fourth most profitable illegal activity worldwide. According to WWF, wildlife transactions amounting to around 19 billion US dollars per year pose a threat to the conservation of wildlife. Laos has become a wildlife trafficking hub and functions as a transit country for ivory, rhino horn, tigers, helmeted hornbills, pangolins and other wildlife.

The greatest threat for the survival of tigers, for example, is illegal hunting for commercial trade due to the apparently insatiable demand for supposedly medicinal tiger products. China is the world’s largest and fastest growing market for wildlife, and traditional Chinese medicine is a major source for demand. Tigers are killed for their bones, skin, claws and meat. Tiger bone wine is promoted as a tonic that is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is also used to treat rheumatism and impotence. It is also a luxury product and status symbol. Wealthy Chinese are willing to pay more than 300 US dollars a bottle. Other body parts like bones, teeth, claws and whiskers are used as ingredients in traditional medicine in China as well as in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore and Korea.

In addition, tigers are threatened by habitat loss as a result of deforestation and infrastructure projects. Unsustainable hunting practices lead to the loss of prey species so that tigers in search for food are pushed into conflicts with humans.


Today, more tigers live in captivity than in the wild. Many spend a bleak life in captivity at so-called tiger farms - bred to be killed. Such commercial tiger farms do also exist in Laos, but the government announced in September 2016 that these will be closed. Moreover, tiger farms did not stop the hunt for them, but instead stimulated poaching of wild tigers.

Laos as well as other countries show a strong link between road building, natural resource extraction and wildlife trafficking. Loggers are known to supplement their income by hunting and selling wildlife to traders and markets. Hunting wildlife promises easy money, and easier access to remote forest areas facilitates the development of smuggler networks.

Wildlife hunting and trading are regulated by law

Since 2004 Laos is a member of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES aims to ensure that international wildlife trade does not threaten the survival of wild animals and plants. All its 183 member countries have to incorporate the Convention into national law.

Did you know?

...that pangolins are the world’s most hunted animals.

...that pangolins are also the only mammals in the world covered in scales.

... that tigers can run as fast as 65 km/h at full speed.

... tigers have antiseptic saliva so that they can disinfect their own wounds.

In recent years, Laos was suspended from CITES twice. In 2015, the Lao government failed to deliver a national action plan on ivory trade. After handing in the report Laos was reinstated. A year later, Laos failed to submit a report on the implementation of the ivory plan and was suspended again.

National Wildlife and Aquatic Law in Laos regards wildlife as a state property. The wildlife law states that hunting practices that cause massive destruction such as explosives, poison, chemicals or electric shocks are prohibited. Hunting wildlife and aquatic species during the breeding season and in protected areas is also prohibited by law. Traditional hunting and fishing for subsistence is not the problem – which is why Lao laws and regulations draw a line between wildlife harvesting for food and for sale. Hunting for home consumption is permitted as long as it is practiced in a sustainable way and does not have negative impacts on the survival of wildlife populations. Commercial hunting and fishing, in contrast, can be much more damaging. Each year, an estimated 10,000 mammals, 7,000 birds and 4,000 reptiles are sold in markets all over Laos. As a result, some species such as Asian rhinos, tapirs or some deer have already or have almost disappeared from the country’s ecosystems.

Endangered animals are more valuable alive than on a plate or processed into a jewelry, home decor or tonic. Consumers can contribute to an end of illegal wildlife trade by simply not buying endangered animals and products derived from them.



Second Survey on Environmental Awareness in Laos

As a follow-up to the 2012 KAP survey, ProCEEd launched a post-KAP in November 2016. It will compare results from 2012 with the ones from 2016. More...

Comic Book and Illustrations on Wildlife Conservation

ProCEEd published a comic book and a series of illustrations on wildlife conservation used on the 2016 Environmental Tour. More...

Training on Provincial Environmental Radio Programs

ProCEEd trained journalists from radio stations in Khammouane and Houaphan on environmental radio program productions. More...


You can now watch 12 professionally produced documentary films broadcast on LNTV in 2017. Three or four episodes of 15 minutes each make up for a mini-series that focuses on a specific topic, e.g. wildlife or forest protection. More films supported by ProCEEd and other GIZ projects are shown as well.


You can listen in to selected radio programs produced by LNR Khammouane in Thakek and Boualapha as well as by LNR Huaphan in Sam Neua and Houameuang. Some of them have even been translated into Khmu and Hmong language. Three 15-min episodes make up for a mini-series that focuses on a specific topic.


At the provincial and district level, Environmental Tours with entertaining environmental education activities regularly tour four provinces and Vientiane Capital. A bus and a truck using solar-powered equipment facilitate film, theatre and local learning and discussion initiatives. Don’t miss the tour!