Two Vietnamese nationals were caught at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Thursday, attempting to smuggle 27 elephant tusks en route from Angola via Thailand to Siem Reap province, according to Thai media reports.
Thai Customs Department deputy director-general Yuttana Yimgarund was quoted in the Bangkok Post on Friday as saying that the seized shipment was distributed among four carry-on suitcases and discovered during a routine bag scan.
The tusks weighed a total of 105 kilograms, and were reportedly worth more than $498,000 – a figure that represents only a small chunk of an industry that experts value at $10 billion to $20 billion annually.
Yuttana identified the alleged smugglers as Pham Ngoc Tuan and his wife, Pham Thi Kim Chi.
“This is the first time we’ve arrested Asians being used to smuggle in African ivory to Asia,” Yuttana was quoted as saying, noting that smugglers in the past were typically African nationals.
Worldwide levels of elephant poaching and ivory harvesting remain high, and Cambodia is emerging as a key transit route for African ivory, according to a report released last year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Neang Thy, a representative of the wildlife elephant project at Fauna & Flora International, noted that Cambodia’s own wild elephant population in the past suffered a tremendous blow due to ivory poaching and had little governmental protection.
However, in most cases, Thy said, “Cambodia is only a transport [hub] for smuggling illegal elephant tusk”.
Only 400 to 600 wild elephants are currently estimated to remain in Cambodia, he added.
Under Thai law, the alleged smugglers could face up to four years’ imprisonment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA