Tigers, elephants, bears and pangolin are four of the most widely traded species in the Golden Triangle – the border area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar connect – according to a new report from WWF. Rhinos, serow, helmeted hornbills, gaur, leopards and turtles also feature on the list of endangered animals that are openly sold in a region that is the epicenter of the illegal wildlife trade.

The area is a home, transit route and final destination for many of the world’s most valuable and threatened animals, creating the perfect breeding ground for illegal wildlife trade. Huge volumes of endangered wildlife products were found to be on sale, including US $4 MILLION worth of ivory and other wildlife products in Myanmar’s Mong La market alone. A major driver of the trade is tourists from China and Vietnam.

African elephant Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Distribution Sub-Saharan Africa

African elephant (Loxodonta africana), bull with large tusks. Photo: © Martin Harvey/WWF

The 10 endangered animals featured in the report:


As well as the continuing demand for ivory, a troubling new trend has also emerged in Myanmar, where wild Asian elephants are being poached and skinned to meet demand for elephant skin usage in traditional medicine. Teeth, hair, bones, tails, trunks were also found on sale.

Helmeted Hornbills

The bird’s large helmet-like structure is ideal for carvings similar to ivory. Demand from China has led to a steady decline in populations. After numbers were decimated in Sumatra, fears are increasing that they may disappear from other parts of their range, including in the Greater Mekong.

Helmeted hornbill Budo Sungai-Padi National Park, Thailand.

Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) male with very large stick insect to be delivered to female in the nest. Via: WWF


The most trafficked animals in the world are in high demand in China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy. Pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies to treat a range of ailments from asthma to rheumatism and arthritis.


African rhinos are being poached at the rate of three per day to feed the demand for their horns in places such as Vietnam, where it is a symbol of wealth, as well as being used for traditional medicine. A more recent trend in rhino horn jewellery and carved horns is also threatening rhinos.

Black rhinoceros

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). Via: WWF


Many of Asia’s poached and farmed tigers pass through the Golden Triangle, where they end up in tiger wine, on dinner tables, in dubious medicines or as luxury items and jewelry.


Bear farms are rampant across the region, where both Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears – mostly captured in the wild – are kept in tiny cages while their bile is collected for traditional medicine and folk remedies.

Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), with mouth open. Via: WWF

Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), with mouth open. Photo: © Y.-J. Rey-Millet/WWF


This lesser known species is native to countries across Asia, including all countries in the Greater Mekong region. Surveys in the Golden Triangle found serow horns, skulls, forelegs, heads, gallbladders and medicinal oil being sold in nine different market areas.


Leopard products including whole skins, pieces of skin and skulls are openly sold in markets throughout the Golden Triangle. Though it can be difficult to determine where and what species the leopard parts are originating from, surveys have seen clouded leopards being traded in particularly high numbers.

Leopard in Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa

Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus). Photo: © Bryan Stemp


The world’s largest species of cattle can be found across the Greater Mekong region. Products on sale include horns, gallbladders for medical purposes, and whole heads as trophies.


An array of turtles and tortoises can be found for sale, both alive and as decorative objects and food. Market surveys found softshell, big headed, box, and Vietnamese pond turtles, as well as impressed tortoises.

Soft shell turtle Indonesia

A Soft shell turtle (Trionychidae) protected by Indonesian Law was saved from being consumed by locals in Long Bawan. Via: WWF

The Time for Action is Now

Chrisgel Cruz, Technical Advisor on Wildlife Trade for WWF-Greater Mekong said, “The markets of the Golden Triangle are a shocking sight, displaying thousands of body parts of some of the world’s most iconic and endangered animals.

“Illegal, unregulated, and unsustainable trade is driving wild populations of hundreds of species to plummet, not only in the Greater Mekong, but around the world. Border areas like the Golden Triangle are where this trade thrives. Governments, law enforcers, NGOs and companies must act now to secure the future of endangered species by getting tough on criminals, supporting those protecting the animals on the frontline and raising awareness across Asia of the need to close these markets.”

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