HANOI: Vietnamese customs authorities have confiscated 860kg of elephant tusks hidden among more than a thousand boxes of frozen fish heads. There were also more than two tons of pangolin scales hidden among the fish heads. Both Asian pangolin species are endangered and worldwide the animals are threatened by the illegal wildlife trade.
An estimated 50 000 elephants are killed every year by gunmen working in the global illegal ivory trade – about one every 15 minutes. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said the illegal haul had been intercepted by customs officials in northern Quang Ninh province. It had come from Taiwan and was found in 1300 boxes marked as frozen fish. The boxes were to be shipped to a third country.
This brings the total amount of ivory seized in Vietnam to 4 859 tons since August. On August 12 Vietnamese customs officials seized 603kg of ivory from a ship that had travelled from Mozambique, and on the same day 2.3 tons were confiscated in a separate incident.
Kelvin Alie, director of IFAW’s wildlife trade programme, said while the organisation applauded Vietnam’s tough stance against wildlife trafficking, it was crucial the Vietnamese government looked beyond seizures and tackled disrupting the trade.
“Seizures of ivory are always good news in the fight against poaching and illegal trafficking because they indicate improved levels of law enforcement, but seizures are the public face of a very tragic scenario that is killing up to 50 000 elephants a year – and shows no sign of abating.
Unfortunately their successes are only proving to highlight the extent of the problem. If we are to save elephants we need to address every link in the ivory chain. That means stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking and stopping the demand,” Alie said.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the current population of African elephants at 470 000. It was 550 000 in 2006. On Tuesday British custom officials seized 110kg of ivory found in abandoned luggage at Heathrow airport. The luggage had come from Angola.
IFAW says the illegal wildlife trade, worth around $19 bn a year, ranks fifth globally in term of value after the illegal trade in drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting. So far South Africa’s elephant population has not been targetting by poachers, but there are signs this is changing. Last month SANParks reported that 19 elephants had been killed for their ivory in the Kruger National Park this year: two at the start of the year, three in July, two in August, seven in September and five in October.
SANParks spokesman William Mabasa said the elephant deaths to poachers guns this year had come after only two were killed in Kruger in 2014, and none for 10 years before that.
Wildlife experts had predicted that South Africa’s elephants would become a target once the populations to the north had become depleted – as happened with Kruger’s rhino population. Today, gram for gram, rhino horn has become the most expensive commodity on the planet, outstripping gold, diamonds or plantinum.
Environment Minister Edna Molewa has said environmental crime does more than threaten the world’s natural resources: it also threatens economic development in many countries, security and the rule of law.
Experts in the wildlife trade estimate the amount of illegal wildlife goods seized by the authorities on average represents between 10 and 14 percent of the actual amount of wildlife product illegally traded.