South Korea Pays Whistle-Blowers to Help Endangered Species

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By Elaine Ramirez

South Korea announced an incentive program that could pay an individual as much as $8,700 a year for reporting illegal trade in endangered plants and animals.

Starting Feb. 13, whistle-blowers can earn money for reporting illegal smuggling or exporting activities as defined by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Ministry of Environment said Feb. 9.

Individuals can earn rewards up to 10 times a year, capped at 10 million won ($8,700) per person annually.

CITES’ list of flora and fauna that require international protection includes 35,600 species from the 183 countries that are parties to the convention.

Rare Orchid, Bear

South Korea, which joined the convention in 1993, has 77 plant species, 61 bird species and 20 mammal species on the endangered list. Those include the Korean lady’s slipper orchid; a wild goat-antelope called the long-tailed goral; and the moon bear or Asian black bear, which was once widely farmed for its gall bladder for traditional medicine.

There are now only 44 of these bears in South Korea, according to government data.

The Ministry of Environment also strengthened penalties for those convicted of trading in endangered species to as much as three years in prison and a 30 million won ($26,000) fine, the government said Feb. 9.

The country had about 6,400 cases of illegal imports, 2,400 exports and 3,600 domestic transfers of endangered animals in 2015, the government said.

Similar Efforts

South Korea has attempted incentive programs and whistle-blower payments in the past to curb trade in endangered species.

In 2015, it ran a three-month program exempting from criminal punishment those who voluntarily reported their illegal trade or possession of endangered animals. And this winter it is offering up to 5 million won ($4,400) for reports of poaching and illegal trafficking of certain endangered wildlife, a seasonal program that runs through March 10.

Several countries, including Malaysia and Swaziland, offer financial incentives to citizens who help the government catch and prosecute those who trade in endangered species. In the U.S., the Endangered Species Act allows for individual payments for information that leads to prosecution under the law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elaine Ramirez in Seoul at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

For More Information

The announcement is available, in Korean, at

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