Ivory Boom in Vietnam Threatens Asia’s Last Wild Elephants


Ivory on sale in Vietnam is commonly mixed in with pig teeth and carved bone, perhaps in an attempt to dupe government inspectors, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said in a report.

© Daniel Stiles/TRAFFIC

Indochina’s few surviving wild elephants are under increasing threat from booming illegal ivory prices in Vietnam, according to a new market analysis released today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

“An assessment of the illegal ivory trade in Vietnam said Vietnamese illegal ivory prices could be the highest in the world, with reports of tusks selling for up to U.S. $1500/kg [$680 per pound] and small, cut pieces selling for up to $1863/kg [$846 per pound],” TRAFFIC said in a news statement.

Most of the raw ivory was said to originate from the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic, with small amounts from Vietnam and Cambodia.

“This is a worrying trend that indicates even more pressure is being put on already fragile Asian Elephant populations,” said Azrina Abdullah, director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.


According to IUCN figures, no more than 1,000 elephants are believed to survive in Lao PDR, while in Vietnam, fewer than 150 are believed to exist. In December 2008, TRAFFIC released a report that found evidence of widespread smuggling of live Asian Elephants and their ivory from Myanmar.

Mammoth ivory from Russia was also used in small quantities, but no African raw ivory was found, although it was still being illegally imported into Vietnam up to at least 2004, TRAFFIC said.

“Trade in ivory was outlawed in Vietnam in 1992, but a major loophole in the legislation exists because shops can still sell ivory in stock dating from the prohibition. This allows some shop owners to restock illegally with recently-made carved ivory.”

In 2008, TRAFFIC surveyed 669 retail outlets across Vietnam and found 73 (11%) selling a total of 2,444 ivory items. Whilst the scale of the ivory market was smaller than in previous surveys, there were signs of increasing demand and overall numbers of craftsmen had increased since 2001. Ho Chi Minh City had the most retail outlets (49) and ivory items (1,776), but Ha Noi, with only 10 outlets, had the highest number of craftsmen, the news statement elaborated.

“Although fewer ivory items were seen in 2008 than in 2001, worked ivory is increasingly being sold directly to buyers through middlemen or on the Internet, bypassing retail outlets,” Abdullah said ,

“Continued demand for illegal ivory is driving the prices so high,” Abdullah explained .

Recent seizures in and outside Vietnam also suggest that most raw ivory is being supplied to China. “The main buyers of ivory were from China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Thailand, local Vietnamese, American-Vietnamese and Europeans, in that order,” the release said.

The report recommends that Vietnam should comply with its obligations under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), particularly regarding the reporting of ivory seizures, that national regulations and their enforcement should be tightened and offenders prosecuted, and that ivory for sale in retail outlets should be confiscated by the government and destroyed.

The report also recommends better training for wildlife law enforcement officers and continued participation in the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and similar initiatives that aim to control the illicit trafficking of ivory and other wildlife products in the region.

asian-elephant-picture.jpgNGS photo by Jodi Cobb

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Changing Planet


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