1 Tahrcountry Musings: Asian Elephants – Threat from Vietnam

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Asian Elephants – Threat from Vietnam

Illegal wildlife trade has always been a threat to wildlife. Here comes some alarming news for Asian elephants. Booming illegal ivory prices in Vietnam is posing a serous threat to elephants across South East Asia, according to a new market analysis report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade-monitoring network. Vietnam is emerging as a conduit and transit point for illegal ivory. Establishments dealing in carved ivory are dime a dozen there. Worked ivory is increasingly being sold directly to buyers through middlemen or on the Internet. TRAFFIC also found evidence of widespread smuggling of live Asian Elephants and their ivory from Myanmar. Most of the products find their way to China and Hong Kong. Not more than 1,000 elephants are believed to survive in Lao PDR, while in Viet Nam, fewer than 150 exists.

Ivory prices are the highest in the world in Vietnam, with tusks selling for up to USD1500/kg. Small, cut pieces are selling for up to USD1863/kg. Trade in ivory was outlawed in Viet Nam in 1992, but a major loophole exists in the legislation, which permits shops to sell ivory in stock dating from the prohibition. This gives an avenue to some shop owners to restock illegally with recently made carved ivory. Smugglers from other Asian countries also might be misusing this proviso with local abetment. Around 4,000 tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year.

The report recommends that Viet Nam should comply with its obligations under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), This includes reporting of ivory seizures, tightening of national regulations and their enforcement, prosecution of offenders, and seizure of ivory for sale in retail outlets. The report also recommends better training for wildlife law enforcement officers and continued participation in the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).

The matter requires urgent intervention from other SE Asian countries. It is not a matter to be looked in to by Vietnam alone. ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) needs to be strengthened and given more teeth. Time to act is now. Prevarication would bring in the death knell of elephants across SE Asia.

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