Cambodia seizes 3 tonnes of tusks

Cambodia says it has seized 1,026 elephant tusks in an abandoned storage container from Mozambique in the country’s largest ever ivory bust.

More than 3.2 tonnes of tusks were seized at Phnom Penh’s port after a tipoff from the US Embassy in the capital, a government spokesman said.  

A recent crackdown on ivory smuggling in China and elsewhere has increasingly pushed the illicit trade through Asean. 

“The elephant tusks were hidden among marble in a container that was abandoned,” Sun Chhay, director of the Customs and Excise Office, told the media.

He said the ivory arrived at the port last year.

Sun Chhay refused to comment on where the ivory might have been heading but insisted that Cambodia was only being used as a transit point and was not driving demand.

Large hauls of smuggled wildlife goods are common in heavily corrupt Cambodia, which has become a hub for the illegal wildlife trade, mostly driven by demand from China and Vietnam.

One of the biggest-ever ivory hauls was made last year in Hong Kong where the authorities uncovered 7.2 tonnes of tusks.

The unidentified owner of the Cambodian shipment did not arrive to collect the load. 

Weak law enforcement and corruption attract wildlife smugglers to Cambodia, especially while the military-controlled authorities in Thailand have been clamping down on the banned trade.

Ivory can be sold in Asean’s marketplaces for between US$770 to US$1,200 per kg with smugglers using the region to transport the substance to China, where it fetches far higher prices. 

While ivory is largely bought for its beauty, traditional medicine has also led to the smuggling of rhino horn, pangolin scales and objects from other endangered species.

The global ivory trade was banned in 1989 after the number of African elephants fell from millions in the mid-20th century to an estimated 600,000 by the late 1980s.

The previous largest Cambodian bust was in 2014 when customs officers seized about 3 tonnes of ivory hidden in a container carrying beans at the port of Sihanoukville.

Cambodia also seized nearly a tonne of ivory hidden in hollow logs in an abandoned sea container, owned by a Mozambique-based firm.

Last year, the Vietnamese authorities seized more than 2.7 tonnes of elephant tusks in the province of Thanh Hoa and in October 2016, about 3.5 tonnes of illegal ivory were captured in Ho Chi Minh City.

An elephant in Mozambique. Picture credit: Wikimedia