Thai authorities on Saturday seized 11 elephant tusks bound for Cambodia at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and arrested a Vietnamese national accused of smuggling them from Ethiopia, the Bangkok Post reported on Monday.
Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, deputy director-general of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, was quoted as saying that Vietnamese national Guyen Hoai Nam was detained while waiting to board a flight to Phnom Penh, and charged with removing the tusks from Ethiopia and bringing them to Thailand without permission.
According to Theerapat, Guyen maintained that he had been hired by another Vietnamese national to bring the ivory into Cambodia, reinforcing concerns that Cambodia is becoming a transit point in the illicit ivory trade.
“Use of Cambodia’s Shihanoukville Port . . . as an export destination for ivory from Africa appears to be an emerging substitute trade route to China following the series of large seizures in Viet Nam,” read a June report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endagered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
The same report said that shipments through Cambodia were likely destined for China and Thailand, which CITES lists as the top destinations of large-scale ivory shipments seized in the past three years.
However, the report added, “criminal syndicates behind these large movements of ivory are believed to be highly adaptive”, and improvements in anti-ivory enforcement in Thailand and Vietnam were likely to drive them to find new routes.
Conservation International country director Seng Bunra said yesterday that while he was not an expert on the ivory trade, he thought it unlikely Cambodia would have been the ivory’s final destination. “Maybe as point of transit to go somewhere else, but as a destination, no I’ve never heard of it,” he said.
According to CITES data, Cambodia was never linked to the ivory trade prior to 2011, when two shipments destined for Sihanoukville were intercepted – one in Kenya, and another in Malaysia.