Three of the largest loads of smuggled ivory to date were recently seized by officials in China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The largest of the three seizures, which occurred 19 April, yielded 707 elephant tusks, 32 ivory bracelets, and a rhino horn. The contraband was discovered in China close to its border with Vietnam.
The remarkably large confiscation comes on the heels of two smaller, but still significant, seizures. Earlier in April, 247 tusks estimated to be worth around US$3.3 million were seized by customs officials in Thailand, while Vietnamese officials confiscated 122 from a warehouse along the Chinese border.
Experts say the recent seizures have reconfirmed their suspicions that Vietnam, Thailand, and China are primary transit and destination countries for smuggled ivory. According to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the world’s largest database of elephant product seizures, over 20 tonnes of elephant ivory have been confiscated in these three countries alone.
Although experts from environmental groups have praised officials for confiscating the smuggled goods, they remain concerned over the growing prosperity of the ivory trade and the environmental hazards associated with it.
“We congratulate the law enforcement officials for the successful interception of the ivory,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, the Asia Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “However, we are concerned about the unrelenting demand for elephant ivory. The high profit margin that can be gained in the illegal trade of ivory is fuelling rampant smuggling and trafficking.”
Tom Milliken, an expert on illegal ivory trade for wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, echoed Gabriel’s statement.
“The enforcement authorities in all these cases are to be congratulated for making these interdictions, but these tusks attest to the poaching of more than 500 elephants, which is a major conservation concern.”
Environmentalists are also reminding governments that although confiscating the goods is an acceptable short-term solution, longer-term solutions need to be developed to successfully curb trade in illegal ivory.
“While major seizures, arrests and prosecutions are certainly deterrents to these smuggling operations, the only long-term solution to curtail elephant poaching has to be to reduce the demand for illegally sourced ivory to negligible levels.”
ICTSD Reporting; “Ivory Seizure in Asia Shows Need for Action Against Illegal Trade,” INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE, 19 April, 2011; “Major Ivory Seizures in Thailand, China, and Viet Nam,” TRAFFIC, 20 April, 2011; “Thailand Seizes 2 Tons of African Elephant Tusks in Country’s Largest Ivory Seizure,” THE CANADIAN PRESS, 1 April, 2011.