Parts of endangered animals including tigers, panthers, bears and antelopes have been blatantly traded in Vietnam at exorbitant prices, as these items appeal to a large clientele who believe in their purported medicinal properties and feng shui effects or simply use them as decorative objects.
Rings trafficking and processing organs of wild animals, particularly those teetering on the verge of extinction, have done good business and reaped whopping profits, according to a recent Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper investigation.
Last week, Tuoi Tre reporters met Lam, who was introduced by some insiders as a distributor of tiger coats, at a small house in Thu Dau Mot City, the capital of the southern province of Binh Duong.
Showing coats of different colors and kinds, the man claimed they belong to wild cats and tigers and fetch corresponding prices.
A palm-sized piece of tiger coat fetches VND500,000 (US$22), while wallets made from panther fur and the lower jaws of tigers with two canines cost VND1.2 million ($53) and VND1 million ($44) apiece respectively, Lam added. The distributor boasted that these items are among the most sought-after ‘luck objects.’
As his clientele come from different provinces, he offers home delivery to those in Ho Chi Minh City while shipping purchases to buyers’ designated addresses by airmail or having bus attendants deliver them to the purchasers.
Lam also supplies animal skulls to enthusiasts of outlandish decorative items. Skulls of tigers and bears sell for VND4.5 million ($197) and VND4 million ($175) apiece, respectively.
He claimed his supplies mostly come from traders in the central Vietnamese province of Ha Tinh and Laos, while assuring his goods are genuine.
Earlier this month, Van, another trader of jeopardized animals’ parts, who resides in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, met theTuoi Tre reporters at a café in Tan Binh District.
According to her price quotation, a whole-sheet tiger coat measuring over two meters in length goes for VND180 million ($7,889).
“The price is reasonable, as shipping the item from [the north-central province of] Nghe An to Ho Chi Minh City alone costs VND20 million [$877],” she explained.
To reassure her ‘clients’ of the ‘reasonable price quotation,’ she provided the phone number of Minh, who is her supplier in Nghe An.
Minh reticently said over the phone that he mostly supplies his goods, which range from animal bones to coats and hide, to Chinese clients, and is quite hesitant to deal with new customers.
Following a bargain, Minh fixed his price for the whole-sheet tiger coat at VND150 million ($6,574) and offered his ‘clients’ a free air ticket to his place in Nghe An.
The Tuoi Tre reporters had another appointment with Hung in Thuan An Town in Binh Duong.
The man, along with two other men, soon arrived at the rendezvous.
Their motorbikes were topped with horned skulls from imperiled animals such as antelopes, reindeer and deer.
Hung affirmed more of his outlandish items such as tiger skulls are in store.
“The pieces, which are contraband, will be delivered to clients’ home, as they cannot be traded in public places,” he explained.
Khanh, another dealer in Binh Duong, showed off dozens of boar canines, bear and tiger claws and wallets which were claimed to be crafted from tiger fur.
He elaborated that objects made from tiger coats are generally used for feng shui purposes and to shield children from ailments.
“I have been blessed with money and pieces of good luck every day since I started using these wallets made from tiger coating,” he bragged.
The reporters went on to meet Dung, a trader of wallets made from the coat of the cat family in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City.
His items crafted from panther and tiger coating are priced at VND1.2 million ($53) and VND2.4 million ($105) apiece respectively.
He will offer discounts if the coats have bullet holes or clients order at least five objects.
“A panther or leopard coat is enough for two to three wallets, and two coats are needed to make five wallets,” Dung said.
Sign of wealth and status
Sheets of coating are supplied by dealers in Laos and Cambodia, before they are cut into smaller pieces and sewn into wallets.
“I’ll introduce you to dealers in whole-sheet tiger coats, but I won’t be present during transactions as trading in the goods is quite sensitive. Dealers will hike prices once they realize your interest in their wares,” Dung noted.
The wacky objects are also hunted by clients as a sign of their wealth and status, the man added.
Along with bones and coating, tiger whiskers have also been in good demand for their supposed superstitious values.
Tran, who resides in the outlying district of Cu Chi in Ho Chi Minh City, offers seven tiger whiskers for a total of VND700,000 ($31).
He said the whiskers were plucked directly by an owner of a tiger farm in the central region.
Fakes outnumber real items
According to Phuong, a seasoned buff of wild animal parts, real items are quite hard to come by, with most of those available on the market being sophisticated imitations.
“As tiger coats typically fetch higher prices than those from their cousins, traders usually tan panther or leopard hide before painting tiger stripes onto it,” he divulged.
“Many counterfeits are elaborately made from plastic and it is almost impossible for clients to tell them apart with their naked eyes.”
According to Nguyen Xuan Luu, head of the Ho Chi Minh City Forest Ranging Department, users of animal parts including coats, hide or bones without being able to prove their origins will be subject to administrative fines or criminal penalties, depending on how serious their violations are.
If seized objects are proved to be animal parts, violators will face penalties regarding forestry management infringements. Otherwise, they will be susceptible to criminal punishment for fraud in selling fakes.