Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision



Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision

Officers from Cambodian customs display some of the 1.3 tonnes of African elephant tusks seized from containers shipped from Mozambique to Phnom Penh last year. Wildlife alliance
Officers from Cambodian customs display some of the 1.3 tonnes of African elephant tusks seized from containers shipped from Mozambique to Phnom Penh last year. Wildlife Alliance

Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision

Cambodia, home to a number of large ivory busts in recent years, has rejected calls to destroy its stockpiles – the preferred method internationally for dealing with the seized contraband – with government officials saying they plan to exhibit it instead.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday endorsed a Ministry of Environment recommendation to keep the ivory for “scientific research” and exhibitions.

Environment Minister Say Samal yesterday said there were recent requests from the NGO Wildlife Alliance, USAID and the US Embassy to burn the ivory, but he rejected them.

“We don’t believe in burning [it], and as a sovereign country, we should make our own decision,” he said. “Why should it be burned?”

Samal said the Kingdom believes in using the ivory for educational purposes, such as for scientific research and for display at museums.

“We will be working with domestic museums to see if they are interested, but we don’t share the view that the display promotes the killing of elephants,” he said.

While the research on the effectiveness of destroying ivory as a deterrent is not universally accepted, numerous African countries where ivory is poached and many countries that intercept illegal shipments routinely destroy their stockpiles.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday during a Ministry of Interior event also questioned why the country should destroy the confiscated ivory.

“I heard that America wanted us to destroy it. No. America has no right to order [the] Khmer administration,” he said, adding that he had agreed to keep it for exhibitions “so that people know it’s from South Africa and was busted in Cambodia”.

Rhinoceros horns would also be displayed, he said, adding that some of the endangered items from Africa are almost extinct, which is why the Kingdom prefers to “take care of” the ivory.

He said that other countries would be allowed to borrow the ivory for their own exhibitions, if the request was made.

Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO for Wildlife Alliance, confirmed that her organisation has made several requests to the Cambodian government and to the US Embassy to destroy the confiscated ivory, but declined to further comment on the issue.

Jay Raman, spokesman for the US Embassy, said he couldn’t provide information on the topic yesterday as the embassy was closed.

Several leaders with other wildlife NGOs declined to comment or referred questions to other people.

Sarah Brook, a technical adviser with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that she would be “more concerned” about the security of keeping the ivory.

“I would doubt that museums would be able to keep it secure and prevent it from returning to the trade,” she said.

Usual practice in handling illegal ivory is to destroy it or send it back to the country of origin, she said.

“A large number of countries are destroying it to send a message that this is an illegal activity that won’t be tolerated and prevent it from returning to the trade,” she said.

Meanwhile, an official from the Department of Customs and Excise, who declined to be named, yesterday said authorities are still searching for Nguyen Tien Chuong, 31, the suspect believed to be behind a massive 1.3-tonne ivory bust in December.

“We are hunting for him,” he said.

“The ministries of environment and interior had a meeting about this matter to [take] further measures.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia's cluster cases jump to 259

    The Ministry of Health on February 27 recorded 26 more cases of Covid-19 linked to the February 20 community transmission, bringing the total to 259 in one week. The 26 include three Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. The ministry noted that five of the Chinese