Skin and Bones

Unravelling the Illegal and controversial industry that threatens global biodiversity.

The tale of one Maverick and his own unconventional methods.

Making your own rules seems like the ultimate way to work in the 21st century.  When you throw in gangstas, criminals and casino dogs that will march you into the jungle and shoot you over an unpaid debt, the prospect gets a little more daunting.  Self-confessed troublemaker Karl Ammann is an Kenya-based undercover investigator, revealing how and why he goes an extra step to infiltrate wildlife criminal circles in Asia's Golden Triangle.

Wildlife products for sale in Tachilek Myanmar. Tiger penis held up in center. Credit: EIA

Wildlife products for sale in Tachilek Myanmar. Tiger penis held up in center. Credit: EIA

Reading tales from the field always gives me an adrenaline rush, the highly dangerous situations undercover investigators cut themselves into only fuels [and makes my mother thankful for] my current desk based research. 

In part one of a three part series for Daily Maverick,  Don Pinnock probes into the 'lawless playground' that is the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ). The area, described casually by Ammann as 'a conduit of death for an unimaginable number of Africa’s iconic animals' is constructed in Boko Province, the last Burmese outpost before China. 

Pinnock's exploration came from the evidence uncovered by the Environmental Investigation Agency in the 2015 report Sin City,  which documents the copious amount of tiger products on sale in the area's restaurants and casinos. Smuggling does not seem to be too much of an issue when corruption rates are high, "the blatant illegal wildlife trade by Chinese companies in this part of Laos should be a national embarrassment and yet it appears to enjoy high-level political support from the Laos Government, blocking any potential law enforcement.

Tiger trade in Asia Source: Creit: EIA Sin City report

Tiger trade in Asia Source: Creit: EIA Sin City report

Prompting raids and reports that the GT SEZ had been shut down back in April 2015, Laos appeared to be stepping in the right direction. Yet, still huge question marks remained over the whole situation 'Why would authorities burn the evidence? Were any DNA samples or investigations into the source of the tiger products made? and What is to happen in the long term?'  With new focus from Pinnock and Ammann working in these areas maybe these questions can be answered. 

EXTRACT

"I was able to track changes in the area and thought I could make a contribution to conservation by letting the world know. It became something of an obsession.

Those changes were to be devastating for elephants, rhinos, pangolin, tigers, bears and many creatures interesting to Oriental taste, superstition and aesthetic. In the uncontrolled, drug-saturated Golden Triangle, the illicit was profitable and law the prerogative of anyone wealthy enough to arm and command unscrupulous men. The area was to become, alongside trafficking of narcotics and humans, China’s illegal wildlife supermarket. 

Enough of the spoilers, I strongly suggest you read the full article to discover Ammann's unusual infiltration techniques and his successes in unearthing smuggling tactics across continents. 

This is part one of a three part series by Don Pinnock. 

Part Two:            
 'Permits signed in blood - How cheating officials undermine CITES regulation' 
is now published on the Daily Maverick Website.

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