Southeast Asia is right at the heart of the world’s illegal wildlife trade.

According to a 2009 report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, Singapore, Malaysia, Manila (The Philippines), Medan (Indonesia) and Hanoi (Vietnam) are ranked among the top 10 illegal wildlife smuggling hubs in the world.

Singapore and Malaysia are smuggling hubs because of their strategic locations, located in the centre of source countries of wild animals and wildlife products and with developed transport links the rest of the world. Malaysia is also one of the source areas for wildlife, specialising in exporting pangolins, birds and clouded monitor lizards.

The wildlife traders and their methods

Most of the illegal wildlife trade is controlled by a few individuals who make lots of money. Many of them are located in these illegal wildlife smuggling hub countries.

Traders use various methods to illegally export wild animals around the world. For example, they are known to export dangerous wildlife species with valid papers as a front, then hide illegal animals under the legal ones. Few Customs officers will unload the dangerous species to check what is underneath.

Who is exporting and importing wildlife products?

In terms of legal wildlife trade, a study in 2009 revealed that, between 1998 and 2007, (Nijman, V. 2009. An overview of international wildlife trade from Southeast Asia, Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation.) Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China were the major exporters of wild-caught animals from Southeast Asia (30 million animals of around 300 species), and the European Union and Japan the most significant importers.

China, Singapore, and to a lesser degree Malaysia, were the countries that featured as major importers of wild-caught wildlife, with China apparently an end destination, but Singapore (pangolins* and reptile skins) and Malaysia (live birds) tending to be re-exporters.

(*Note- In 2000, CITES imposed a zero quota on trade in species of Asian pangolins- this refers to legal trade prior to 2000).