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Vietnam 'supermarket' for illegal wildlife trade, hearing told
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Nov 14, 2016

New Chinese home for 'world's saddest polar bear'
Shanghai (AFP) Nov 14, 2016 - A polar bear dubbed the "world's saddest" by animal rights activists has been removed from a Chinese shopping mall where campaigners said it was suffering in unsuitable conditions.

The Grandview Mall in the southern city of Guangzhou held a farewell party for Pizza the bear at the weekend, it said on social media.

A spokesman for the mall, which set up an "Ocean World" attraction with 500 species to try to draw in shoppers, told AFP: "Pizza left the aquarium with escorts after the farewell party" on Sunday.

Chinese media reports said he was returning to the facility where he was born in captivity in the northern port of Tianjin.

The mall claimed the move was a temporary one due to the facility being renovated, and that Pizza would return after the works were completed.

But the US-based Humane Society International mounted a media-friendly campaign to highlight the bear's plight, coining the description the "world's saddest polar bear" and generating global headlines.

It distributed video showing Pizza pacing around his 40-square-metre glass-fronted enclosure and shaking his head as onlookers took pictures on their cellphones.

The footage showed the bear was in poor physical and mental condition, it said.

Peter Li, China policy expert at HSI said in a statement: "Pizza the polar bear has endured a life of deprivation and suffering in his small, artificial glass-fronted room at the shopping mall.

"At last he will feel the sun on his fur, sniff fresh air and see the sky above in the company of his mum and dad."

The move was a result of public pressure, he said, and suggested that if the bear was in poor health that could be another factor.

"We implore the Mall to make this a permanent move for Pizza and to not condemn him to return," he added.

Pictures of the bear's farewell party posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo by the mall showed children queuing up to say goodbye to the bear.

"Tears and sadness are only temporary, we will make the cosiest home to await your return," it said.

A Vietnamese village has become "a supermarket for illegal wildlife trafficking" raking in millions of dollars, a special hearing was told Monday.

The two-day public hearing in The Hague is laying out the findings of a year-long undercover investigation by the new Wildlife Justice Commission.

The probe has provided "clear and irrefutable evidence of an industrial-scale crime hub in the village of Nhi Khe in Vietnam," said the commission's executive director Olivia Swaak-Goldman.

"Urgent, decisive action" was needed, she told about 200 people gathered at The Hague's imposing Peace Palace.

The commission, set up last year, has no power to bring charges, but hopes the hearing will push Vietnam and other countries to crack down on the global $20-billion (18.5-billion-euro) trade in wildlife poaching.

Five experts, including international judges, will set out recommendations on Tuesday for further action.

But it seems Hanoi has already been spurred into action ahead of a major international conference on wildlife trafficking it is hosting later this week.

On Saturday, Vietnamese authorities destroyed a stockpile of two tonnes of ivory and 70 kilos (154 pounds) of rhino horn, which had been uncovered by the commission.

Former US assistant New York attorney Marcus Asner, an advisor on wildlife trafficking to US President Barack Obama, said it was "a good step" but more was needed.

Nhi Khe had become "a supermarket for illegal wildlife" with "massive quantities of rhino horn for sale and huge quantities of elephant products" openly on display, he said.

The commission says it has identified 51 people involved in the illegal trade in Nhi Khe, operating out of 16 shops dotted around the small village. The names have been given to Hanoi.

But "justice has not been activated in this case by the authorities in Vietnam, despite months of discussions and clear and detailed evidence," said Swaak-Goldman.

During five return visits in 2015 and 2016, the undercover operation found $53.1 million worth of parts from rhinos, elephants and tigers in Nhi Khe, just 17 kilometres (10 miles) south of Hanoi.

There were parts from up to 907 elephants, 579 rhinos and 225 tigers. But there were also other dead animals for sale, including pangolin, bear, hawksbill turtles and helmeted hornbills.

They were smuggled to the Southeast Asian country mostly from Africa and overwhelmingly destined for customers in China.

- Massive profits -

After a sale is agreed, business is then conducted on WeChat, the Chinese version of the mobile phone messaging service WhatsApp, with the buyers providing account details of Chinese banks for payment.

"What is most lacking is enforcement, and this is based on the absence of political will," said international judge Motoo Noguchi.

"The culture of impunity prevails."

A series of undercover videos showed shopkeepers weighing piles of ivory and rhino horn. There were also hundreds of bangles, necklaces and figurines.

One elephant tusk was estimated at $29,000 -- a fortune in the country where the average monthly salary is $210.

One woman trafficked an estimated $2.2 million in products over 12 months from her mansion, with a brand new Mercedes outside, the commission's senior legal investigator Pauline Verheij told the hearing.

Despite crackdowns elsewhere, an interpreter told the team it was safer to shop in Nhi Khe as people there "had their connections" ensuring police turned a blind eye.

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Previous Report
Vietnam destroys huge ivory, rhino horn cache
Hanoi (AFP) Nov 12, 2016
Vietnam destroyed a huge stockpile of ivory and rhino horn Saturday, urging the public to stop consuming illegal wildlife products driving several species towards extinction. The ivory and rhino horn trade is officially banned in Vietnam, but its use in traditional medicine and for decoration remains widespread, especially among the communist country's growing elite. It is also a popular ... read more

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