The information was released at a conference to fight wild animal trading in Hanoi on Tuesday, said Colonel Luong Minh Thao, vice director of the Department for Environmental Police.

The estimate was 'based on many sources, both data from Vietnamese police, customs and data distributed by other countries,' said Lieutenant Colonel Vu Duyen Hai of the Department for Environmental Police.

Hai said more than 3,000 out of 4,500 tons of wild animals transported from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand transited Vietnam before heading to China. The rest was probably consumed domestically, he added.

Popular wild animal parts illegally traded include primates, bears, pangolins, elephant tusks, rhino's horns and snakes.

'It is very difficult to say if the number of wild animal cases trafficked is rising or falling,' Hai said. 'But clearly, wild animal smugglers are operating in a more sophisticated and secret manner.'

Consumption of wild animals in homes and restaurants is widespread in China and Vietnam, where they are considered a delicacy, despite laws granting many animals protected status. The animals are often associated with health benefits in traditional medicinal beliefs.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - December 22, 2010