• DAY 305: HAVE I FINALLY LOST IT? RESCUING FROGS WHILST AVOIDING TINY DANCERS IN HANOI

    Jul 26 2013

    The start of this video is a little grim but don’t worry, it quickly fades into farce. At the time of making this I was all enveloped – now looking back on it I worry for my sanity.

    There is a lake in central Hanoi which is ‘protected’ from fishing. It lies serene in the heart of the old town amidst the incessant urban busyness around it. I have just released some fish and frogs into this lake from a rather brutal market. This sounds reasonable enough but I found myself walking round and round this lake, through dancers, badminton players, tourists, street vendors, tai-chi experts, all the while carrying a bag of frogs and live fish, panicking about where was best to release them.

    The street markets in Vietnam are fairly grim. I never thought I would wish death upon a creature like I have just done now. But seeing the way they kill – or rather don’t kill – the fish to keep them fresh right up until cooking is heartbreaking and makes me what to end it for them sooner rahter than later.

    It’s clear to me, as it shoudl have been a long time ago, that the suffering of fish is no different than the suffering of other creatures. Any distinction was in my mind, caused by a segmentation of compassion that I see echoed throughout the word: some creatures we care about, other creatures we don’t and the reasons and the reasons are never based on logic but prejudice instead.

    Vietnam is over and I feel empty-handed. How many pangolins did  I save?

    Zero.

    But how many could I have saved. I suspect zero .

    This is a global fight, and it begins in the hearts and minds of all of us.

    If you would like more information about pangolins or what you can do then see below:

    1) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them (see below), visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    2) Donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (click here for the CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    3) Support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

    FINALLY – PASS ON THE LINK TO THIS BLOG.

    GO PANGOLINS!!! We have only a few years left to save them. WE CAN’T CRAWL INTO A BALL AND IGNORE THIS.

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  • DAY 303: HOW EASY IS IT TO BUY ILLEGAL PANGOLIN SCALES IN HANOI? I TRY AND FIND OUT.

    Jul 24 2013

     

    Don’t for one minute think that the illegal wildlife trade is fundamentally tied to poverty, it is not.

    If anything it’s the very opposite. As countries get richer, especially China, they demand more ‘status’foods and medicine. The rich Chinese businessman likes impress with a tasty Pangolin soup or Tiger wine and despite there being no proof whatsoever that it works, they still demand TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine

    It is easy to laugh at TCM. It seems, from the outside, as plausible as witchcraft or voodoo and as ritualistic and cruel as both. But think again. We have homeopathy, we have horoscopes. There has been for some time a £1,000,000 reward for anyone that can scientifically prove that homeopathy works, and for many more years a steady flow in astrology charts in teh back of popular magazines. Granted, homeopathy doesn’t involve the wiping out of entire species and horoscopes don’t involve ritualistic torture but their claim to irrationality is perhaps equally as impressive as any pangolin soup.

    Get inside the mind of a chinese person wanting sharks fin soup.

    And then get out as quickly as possible.

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  • DAY 291: FOUND IT! OUTSIDE THE HQ OF ASIA’S MOST WANTED WILDLIFE TRADER

    Jul 11 2013

    Just outside a small town on the north side of the Mekong river is the home and HQ of one of the world’s most wanted Asian wildlife criminals, Vixay Keosavang.

    This was a (very brief) video I made. I didn’t ring on his doorbell I’m afraid. Didn’t have the balls (or insanity). It’s probably not a safe place to hang around for too long

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  • DAY 289: SPOTTING MY FIRST ILLEGAL PANGOLIN TRADE TRUCK

    Jul 10 2013

     

    In one short day I have managed to  get some information about the whereabouts of the HQ of asia’s supposed overlord of wildlife trafficking as well as find myself a local guide to take me on my journey into deepest Laos.

    When a country is more – how do you say – basic…no that’s wrong, perhaps ‘lawless’, it means its easier to get certain things done . I imagine if a Laotian person came to London and tried to find a guide to help track the movement of cattle from farms it would take a little longer than I did to find the equivalent person out here to help me track the illegal wildlife trade.

    The manager of my hotel seemed massively dodgy – I have nothing to back this up other than the appearance of his squint and the way he chewed his toothpick –  but sure enough he found me a guide in about ten minutes.

    ‘Er, do you like animals?’ was my opening question in the short interview I gave my guide before deciding if I coudl trust him with the  rather challenging journey we had ahead.

    ‘Oh yes, and there is a big problem in Laos with the wildlife’

    That was it. This guy would have to do. I hinted at what we were about to do and asked if he was comfortable with it and explained that I dind’t want him taking any unnecessary risks. But he seemed genuinely concerned about the wildlife issue in Laos. I will not give him name or show any pictures of him other than tell you his name is Barry and he is 8 foot tall. In other words, neither of those things is true.

    Me and Barry found ourselves at the cross roads of two roads where various international traffic routes through Laos meet en route to China.

    At the very end of the day, just as I had packed my bag we also saw a truck full of dogs heading to the border.

    ‘Many many dogs come from Thailand to go to be eaten in Vietnam. Very, very common’  said Barry, matter of factly.

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  • DAY 287: PANGOLIN EXPERT SENDS ME OUT ALONG MEKONG RIVER TO TRACK WILDLIFE TRADE

    Jul 08 2013

    The picture of Vixay Keosavang, reportedly one of Asia's most prolific wildlife traders, living in Laos currently.

     

    (Above: The picture of Vixay Keosavang, reportedly one of Asia’s most prolific wildlife traders, currently living in Laos.)

    ‘I have a wife from Laos, my kids live here’ says the man sitting opposite me in the small café in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, who prefers to remain nameless ‘ its not worth me having any trouble. You’ll have to go on your own, Martin’

    We are sheltering in the freezing air conditioning whilst the 36 degree heat beats down outside. He is an expert in the wildlife trade who wants to help the terrible pangolin situation but is aware of the dangers.

    ‘To be honest Martin, I thought we had the perfect guy to accompany you, he could have shown you all the secret hideouts – the hunters, traders, the hotspots. But I texted him yesterday and he didn’t reply. Today I heard he’s been out of contact for three months. He normally checks in every week. We are worried. He was working on the illegal primate trade. All I can say is, if you want to look into the pangolin trade you’ll be going against some– how shall I put it – influential people. I won’t be able to come with you. The worst that can happen to you is deportation. The worst that can happen to any local you use to show you around… well…it’s much worse’

    A few months ago, on March 4th 2012, the Herald Tribune in the US ran a front page article alongside a photo of a man called Vixay Keosavang that read ‘He is the single largest known illegal wildlife trafficker in Asia’. The quote was from the founder of the anti-smuggling group, Freeland, Steve Galster, who, along with various other agencies has been tracking this single man who appears to be the Osama Bin Laden of the Asian illegal wildlife trade. It is well known that although the illegal wildlife trade is smaller than the arms and drugs trade it is closely connected to both – people often ‘practice’ on wildlife before moving up to drugs although the rewards are now so high for animal parts that they might as well stay with wildlife. The punishments are far less severe.

    Vixay's deputy who was busted in South Africa and given 40 years for attempting to smuggle rhino horn back to Laos. Photo credit: killingforprofit.com, Julian Rademeyer

    Vixay’s deputy was busted in South Africa and given 40 years for attempting to smuggle rhino horn back to Laos. Photo credit: killingforprofit.com, Julian Rademeyer

    Vixay Keosavang reportedly lives in a small town in the heart of Laos where he runs an apparently untouchable business of trafficking wildlife that includes ivory imports and exports as well as pangolin smuggling. His right hand man was recently caught in South Africa trying to ship a load of rhino horn back to the HQ and received a forty year sentence. But Vixay has so far remained elusive and will continue to do so as long as he remains in Laos: he has too many friends in high places and those friends enjoy his money too much. Laos is a deeply corrupt country that is also poor. This makes it a great place to smuggle wildlife.

    ‘What would you like to do in Laos, Martin?’ says my contact.

    ‘I don’t know. Visit Vixay Keosavang’s compound perhaps? Meet some smugglers? Witness the trade first hand. I want to get the story out. ’

    I feel like a fool but I mean what I say.

    My contact, to my surprise, takes me seriously. “Look …what I suggest is that you head East. Keep a look out on highway 13. Traffic comes across the river Mekong from Thailand and goes up to Vietnam on that road. Sit and wait.’

    He leans over the table and shows me a photo. ‘We saw this on that road – in plain sight, two pick up trucks stuffed full of pangolins’

    ‘Can you be sure they are pangolins in there?’

    He is certain. Each blue ball contained a living pangolin rolled up.

    Trucks heading along the border to Vietnam apparently carrying living pangolins rolled into small blue bags. A kilo of living pangolin fetches a few hundred dollars on the market.

    Trucks heading along the border to Vietnam apparently carrying living pangolins rolled into small blue bags. A kilo of living pangolin fetches a few hundred dollars on the market

     

    Then he shows me a photo that he is unable to allow me to publish here. It pictures a large sheet of paper with rows and rows of handwritten figures – some sort of ledger that appears to track all the border crossings for one particular company between Vietnam and Laos, on highway 8, the crossing that my bus just spluttered over.

    ‘See here, it lists all the pangolin shipments across the border. Two or three a week. One shipment shows 495 pngolin totally over $28,000 which amounted in only $300 tax being paid. A lot more money is paid under the table. This just makes the transfer official’

    ‘And why is it official if it is illegal?’

    My route to try and track the illegal trade in pangolins coming across the river from Thailand and onto Vietnam. On the way I might stumble across the HQ of reportedly asia's biggest wildlife trafficker, who knows.

    My route to try and track the illegal trade in pangolins coming across the river from Thailand and onto Vietnam. On the way I might stumble across the HQ of reportedly asia’s biggest wildlife trafficker, who knows.

    A so called 'Wildlife Farm' openly selling its animals. These are used to 'launder' wild animals which are poached from the jungle and then sold on as if they have been bred in captivity. It is legal to sell animals that have been bred in captivity.

    A so called ‘Wildlife Farm’ openly selling its animals. These are used to ‘launder’ wild animals which are poached from the jungle and then sold on as if they have been bred in captivity. It is legal to sell animals that have been bred in captivity.

    ‘Oh the government know all about it. They want the tax. Of course the government pretend it is legal by saying that the wild aniamls have been farmed, which means legally bred in captivity. But everyone knows you can’t do that with wild animals like pangolins..they die in farms. So what happens is that the traders collect the wildlife from poachers and then bring it to their compound and say that they animals have been born there. These farms even openly advertise their products. It’s incredibly corrupt. If you want to find out where Vixay’s compound is I woudl recommend speaking to Julian Rademeyer from South Africa who recently wrote a book about the rhino trade ‘Killing for Profit’, apparently he visited the place.’

    My flight back to the UK is in a few days.  I have to set off tomorrow morning if I am going to see anything. Travelling into Laos can take days on bad roads. That means I have only tonight to get through to Julian Rademeyer in South Africa as well as find myself a non-corrupt guide who will be prepared to take me out to look for the illegal trade.

    Get moving, Martin

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  • DAY 273: AND THE MYSTERY CREATURE IS….A PANGOLIN!!!! (never heard of it??)

    Jun 26 2013
    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures?

    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures? I am in Vietnam to find out.

    At a fairly young age we learnt that a good way to deal with misery in the world was to crawl into a ball. I guess we can blame our mother’s womb.

    But not much later we also learnt that crawling into a ball was not a good long term solution. There are still days when I’m tempted to roll under my duvet and look at my navel but I’ve learnt  that it is always more productive to get up and face the world.

    The pangolin never learnt this lesson. It is a small scaly anteater that looks much like a pine cone on legs and which has the dubious title of being the the world’s most illegally traded mamal and a creature you may never have heard of.

    A perfect ball!

    A perfect ball!

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    That is because for 70 million (70 million!!) it has been gloriously successful at defending a solitary ecological niche by using its unique scaley armour to fend of all manner of attacks…yes, by crawling into a perfect ball. It is a marvel of survival. It has been around even longer than the Apple 1 computer.  Until now. While it’s defence mechanism is perfect against tigers it is not so good against poachers with a simple plastic bag. The creatures have no teeth and are completely defenceless against being picked up, put in bags, then traded and killed for their meat and scales.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are being decimated by the illegal wildlife trade at such a rate that David Blaine could well hire them for a vanishing act. Although the Chinese (yes, those pesky Chinese) have always had a taste for pangolin meat and held a belief that their scales (which are made of keratin, essentially no different from our fingernails) can cure all manner of ills, including DEATH, in the last ten to fifteen years the trade has boomed due to ease of international travel and communication.

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

     

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother's back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother’s back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    Giddy-up!

    Giddy-up!

     

    Even if pangolin trades are intercepted they have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable

    Getting into a ball does little to stop the traders picking you up. Even if pangolin traders are intercepted the pangolins have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable to stomach ulcers and fatigue

     

    Out in Vietnam

    The pangolin is totally f**cked. Excuse my Swedish, but this is real bad.

    And I am out in Vietnam, one of the natural habitats and hotspots for illegal trade, to find out more.

     

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE (and me lost somewhere in the middle)

     

    Experts that I have spoken to fear that some of the Asian species, of which there are four (there are four in Africa too) may become extinct in the next decade or so and that trade is now so unsustainable that it is moving to Africa where new flight paths can ship these defenceless creatures to….yeh, you guessed, it China.

    I’m totally enchanted by Pangolins. I hope you will be too after the next few days. They are the unsung hero of the wildlife trade. Curiously one of the main reasons they suffer is because no-one cares about them so there is very little public and therefore poltical will to stop the trade. They are not as sexy as Tigers or as grand as elephants or as charismatic as rhinos but …

    THEY ROLL INTO A PERFECT BALL.

    What’s not to like?

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported - living - like this for days.

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported – living – like this for days.

    Boiled

    Boiled

    Their name Pangolin comes from the malay word for ‘Roller’ in fact. And damn, are they cute too. They have no teeth, are deeply shy, come out at night, only eat termites and ants, climb trees, hang from their tails upside down, have little black eyes and get scared real easy.

    But when they are caught they don’t survive for long. They are driven across borders alive (living animals are always valued more), often injected with water to increase their weight or force fed the wrong food. They normally perish in a few days because of a)stress b)they can’t go to the loo when they are rolled up c) they can’t drink…

    (excuse me for a second while I take a breath…I’m sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant outside Hanoi eating spinach and rice and my neighbor just ordered a chicken. I suddenly heard the chicken squawk with a cut to the throat…phew, I’ve gone meat-free just in time)

    In China - and in Vietnam - pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person's past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    In China – and in Vietnam – pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person’s past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    A very silent pain

    OK…back to the pangos. The pangolins are suffering a vast and deeply SILENT pain that is getting worse by the moment. This is our last chance to try and save them and we can all play a part. While they may seem prehistoric or even mythical these are beautiful creatures and campaigners admit that a key issue is raising awareness amongst the public

    I want you to knock on your neighbours door and tell them that ‘Pangolin’s are bloody amazing’ and then get into a perfect ball and roll back to your house. We HAVE TO GET THE WORD OUT. Please…KEEP READING OVER NEXT FEW DAYS.

    I’m out here in Vietnam for two weeks to do my bit.

    What can I do? I have NO IDEA!!!! I’m really at a loss (ask Ann who I wailed to on the phone the other day saying I had no idea what I was doing)

    But I’ve come to a sanctuary in Cuc Phuong National Park where they have a wonderfully named ‘Pangolorium’ to meet some of these creatures and then follow my nose from there. They only have a handful of these creatures because they are so hard to keep in captivity but many many pangolins are harvested from or travel through Vietnam and Laos. If I don’t get anywhere I can always climb into a ball and I know I’ll be safe.

     

    MORE ABOUT PANGOLINS:

    A nice website

    http://savepangolins.org/what-is-a-pangolin/

     

    More specialist info:

    http://www.pangolinsg.org/

     

    WATCH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH LIST PANGOLINS AS ONE OF HIS TOP TEN CREATURES TO SAVE:

     

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