Seizure shows that the illicit trade in elephant tusks persists despite efforts by both Vietnam and China to combat trafficking syndicates
Vietnamese authorities seized close to three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit in the back of a van that was traveling through the central province of Thanh Hoa on Sunday, according to AFP.
The ivory, which state media said originated from South Africa, was the largest seizure ever made in Thanh Hoa, according to a report by local police.
Despite outlawing the trade of ivory in 1992, Vietnam has remained a major transit point for the trafficking of tusks, which are used for both decorative and pseudo-medicinal purposes and can fetch up to $1,100 per kilogram.
However, authorities have ramped up their efforts to stamp out the trade after the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc urged law enforcement agencies to do more last September.
Two months after that call to action, 2,253 kilograms of ivory and rhino horn – estimated to be worth more than $7m – were burnt publicly outside Hanoi, a move that Vietnam’s deputy agriculture minister described as “a clear indication of our government’s political determination to fulfil our international duty in conventions to protect wildlife”.
An investigation by the Australian state-funded media outlet ABC in January found that while ivory and other animal contraband had been removed from the public eye in Nhi Khe, a village near to Hanoi known as the “supermarket for wildlife”, it was still readily available to those who ‘made an appointment’ with certain ‘travel guides’.
While there have been signs of success in combating the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam, the criminal networks driving the trade remain intact, according to Douglas Hendrie, a technical advisor and wildlife crime specialist at Education for Nature Vietnam.
“We’ve seen something like a 60% reduction in the domestic consumption of bear bile in Vietnam over the past decade,” he told ABC in January. “The bad news is that Vietnam remains a major hub for smugglers and criminal networks trying to get these products into neighbouring countries like China, where demand remains strong.”
But there is some cause for optimism. Since China announced last December that it would shut down its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, the wholesale price of ivory has dropped by almost two thirds.
“We must give credit to China for having done the right thing by closing the ivory trade,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, president and founder of Save the Elephants, told the Guardian in March. “There is now greater hope for the species.”