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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Black markets along the borders of Myanmar are the deadly gateway of a thriving illegal trade in tigers, considered "easy money" by many in the area, wildlife protection groups said on Friday.
Provincial markets along Myanmar's borders with Thailand and China are notorious because many are located in areas outside government control between northern Myanmar and southern China, said British-based Traffic International, which carried out a study with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
"With as few as 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, the ongoing large-scale trade documented in this report cannot be taken lightly," said William Schaedla, Traffic Southeast Asia Regional Director, in a statement.
"The area is struggling with governance and tigers are easy money for everybody from mafia types to anti-government opposition groups."
Provincial markets at the Myanmar towns of Mong La, near the border with China, and Tachilek, on the Thai border, saw active trade in live animals -- including a rare Asiatic lion -- as well as tiger and leopard parts, a report on the study said.
The products of this trade -- whole skins, bones, paws, penises and teeth -- were transported into China and Thailand or sold to Chinese traders who crossed the Myanmar border, it added.
Hundreds of tiger and leopard parts, representing more than 400 individual animals, were observed during nearly a decade of investigations in Myanmar and Thailand.
A study issued by Traffic and the WWF this month said more than 1,000 tigers had been killed over the last decade for illegal trade. India was the center of the trade, with the most seizure of tiger parts, followed by China.
An average of 104 to 119 tigers were killed annually, though the groups said this was probably a fraction of the total trade.
The report noted that while wildlife laws in Thailand were considered well written and Myanmar had "clearly-articulated" laws, the biggest problem was enforcement, especially in areas outside government control.
"Effective suppression of trade will only be achieved when the countries involved significantly increase their enforcement efforts, allocate more resources to conservation and work more closely with enforcement officials and agencies in neighboring countries," wrote report author Adam Oswell.
Tiger parts are used in many cultures as good luck charms, decoration or in traditional medicines, with the animals symbolizing strength, courage and luck.