Many conservationists have heard of the Xaysavang Network, it is an international wildlife trafficking syndicate that facilitates the killing of elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and other species for products such as ivory and rhino horn.

The network came to light in South Africa in 2008 when five men were arrested for offering an undercover police officer tens of thousands of dollars for three rhino horns. A year later, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and customs officers seized 280kg of elephant ivory and 36kg of rhino horn at Nairobi airport. The shipment was registered to Xaysavang and bound for Laos.

Vixay Keosavang, a Lao national, is believed to be the leader of the network. Xaysavang associates smuggle illegally taken wildlife from countries in Africa and Asia into Laos, and then export them to countries such as Vietnam and China. Affiliates are suspected to be active in South Africa, Mozambique, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. The Xaysavang Network has been linked to several major seizures of wildlife products.

The U.S. Department of State is currently offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the dismantling of the Xaysavang Network (and the capture of Vixay Keosavang). This bounty shows a marked escalation in the fight against wildlife crime. US State Department officials say the $1 million reward reflects the seriousness with which the crime is now viewed in Washington and elsewhere.

Keosavang, a former soldier said to be in his 50s, is reported to have close links with the military in Laos (the one-time communist neighbour of Vietnam and Thailand) and has been described as the “Pablo Escobar” of wildlife smuggling, is said to be protected by his contacts in the Laotian government. It is also said he held a senior position in a state-run firm with interests in construction and international trade.

According to documents unearthed by Vietnamese journalists he also has interests in trading hundreds of thousands of live animals, including endangered temple turtles, king cobras and rat snakes. The Network is also said to own a farm in Laos which breeds long-tailed macaques for export to China as laboratory animals. Source: The Independent and the US Department of State