“When I was director of Yok Don National Park, I saw a live male elephant being tied by poachers to a column of house so they could cut its tusks,” said Do Quang Tung, MARD’s chief secretariat, describing an incident of two years ago in one of three areas with the highest numbers of living elephants in Vietnam.
Elephant tusks, rhino horns and bear gall are the products of a wildlife market valued at $20 billion, ranking third below narcotics and weapon markets worldwide.
Experts say mainland China consumes 70 percent of the world’s elephant tusks. Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam are also large markets.
The wholesale price of elephant tusks in Hong Kong and mainland China was $450-900 per kilogram last year.
In the last three months of 2016, Vietnam’s customs officers discovered and seized six tons of elephant tusks.
Recently, in a consignment of timber imported from Mozambique, customs officers discovered 2,052 kilograms of elephant tusks hidden in six out of 100 sections of wood. About 100 elephants were killed for the tusks.
Le Nguyen Linh, deputy head of the Sai Gon Port Zone 1 Customs Agency, said he once saw a pair of tusks weighing up to 60 kilograms illegally carried through the Cat Lai Port.
Hoang Thi Minh Hong, director of CHANGE, said most elephants killed in Africa are carried to Asia, while Vietnam is a center from which elephant tusks are carried to other countries.
It is estimated that 33,000 elephants are killed for tusks. Most of the tusks trafficked to Vietnam are sourced from Africa. Only a small number of tusks are from home raised or wild elephants in Vietnam and Laos. Elephant killers not only can sell tusks, but also meat for food and skin for garments.
In Africa, there are only about 420,000 elephants left, a 50 percent decrease compared with 1979. Tanzania lost 60 percent of its elephants within five years and Central Africa 65 percent.
The population of elephants in Vietnam has declined considerably in recent years because of illegal poaching. Vietnam had more than 1,000 elephants 20 years ago, but now there are fewer than 100.