By the Numbers: Wildlife Trafficking in Southeast Asia

The data driving Asia

Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra pledged on March 3 at the opening meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to end the nation’s ivory trade. The Convention has 178 Parties, and seeks to facilitate international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation.

Yingluck did not indicate a timeline for amending trade legislation, which remains a point of concern for many environmentalists. Thailand is a major hub for trafficked animals from throughout Southeast Asia and Africa. In light of the recent CITES conference, we examine the scope of the issue of animal trafficking in Southeast Asia by the numbers:


The percentage of a single tortoise species’ population found by Thai authorities in an animal smuggler’s bag on March 15. The bag, which was intercepted at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, contained 54 ploughshare tortoises and 21 radiated tortoises.  There are only an estimated 400 ploughshare tortoises remaining in the wild.


The price a Vietnamese company paid Vixay Keosavang, the most notorious animal smuggler in Asia, for a single sale. Mr. Vixay provided 70,000 snakes, 20,000 turtles and 20,000 monitor lizards to the company. Counter-trafficking organizations have spent 8 years trailing Vixay, who has been referred to as the “Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.”

This is a pangolin, one of the many wildlife species endangered due to animal trafficking in Southeast Asia. Source: Ubuntunewsru's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.


The number of endangered pangolins seized by the Thai navy on March 25 en route to China. The smuggled pangolins were found by the Mekong River Task Force in Thailand’s northern border area, and two suspects were arrested. Pangolins are prized for their skin, scales, and meat.


The number of trafficked animals captured by Thai officials over the past two years. The cost of caring for the animals is $57,000 a month. They are housed at government centers across Thailand after they are seized from smugglers. While private donations cover some of these expenses, the Department of National Parks still has immense difficulty maintaining the centers.


Thailand’s position in the global market for illegal ivory trade. Between 50 and 100 African elephants are killed each day to meet the international demand for tusks. There are 5,000 stores, kiosks, and boutiques that sell ivory to tourists within Thailand alone. China ranks highest in the illegal ivory trade.


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