Police in Phnom Penh confiscated a load of contraband wildlife, including two elephant
tusks probably originating from Africa. Wildlife experts said the July 26 discovery
hinted at a new route through Cambodia for illegal ivory.
Acting on a tip, the police searched a Toyota Camry driven from Kampot that carried
the tusks and sets of horns from endangered species such as gaur, muntjac deer and
Brian Kennerley, a law enforcement officer working with the Department of Forestry
and Wildlife and WildAid, said it was unclear how much the haul was worth. However,
the two tusks, which weigh 23 kilograms, are worth around $11,000.
Kennerley said the suspect, a Vietnamese national, told police he was delivering
the parts to a wildlife trader in Phnom Penh. The likely destination was black markets
in Vietnam or China. The suspect was arraigned on July 28 and has not yet been sentenced.
Both the car and the wildlife were confiscated.
Despite efforts to clamp down on wildlife smuggling, the clandestine industry is
thriving. Snakes, turtles, monkeys and a host of other species are routinely trafficked
across the border into Vietnam and Thailand. Provisions in the Forestry Law prohibit
the practice without a permit, but they are often ignored.
Joe Heffernan of NGO Fauna & Flora International said this latest incident of
ivory smuggling was worrying, because it could signal a new path for ivory on the
Asian black market.
"[Smugglers] have been sending ivory into Vietnam and Thailand for a long time,"
he said. "But this is the first time it has popped up in Cambodia."
Heffernan suspects that the African ivory is supplementing dwindling stocks of Asian
elephant tusks as the animals near extinction. Most of the demand is from China.
The international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since the Convention on
the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) stopped
the practice in 1989.
However, a meeting of CITES parties in 2002 approved the sale of ivory from African
nations to raise money for conservation. Four shipments of ivory were approved from
Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to unspecified buyers after the establishment
of a monitoring program. No such agreement exists in Southeast Asia. A recent CITES
report named Thailand as one of the worst offenders in the illegal ivory trade.