Huge Ivory Busts Lead Vietnam To Crack Down On Wildlife Trade


Brett Davis, Forbes

Date Published

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In recent years Vietnam has garnered global attention as a source and destination for the illegal wildlife trade.

Rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger products are some of the higher profile animals trafficked to, and through, the country. However, other threatened species are also regularly traded and include civets, pangolin anteaters, moon and sun bears, some species of marine turtles and monitor lizards.

The driving forces behind the trade vary, with some consumed as food, displayed as trophies or used for their supposed medicinal properties. For example, the demand for rhino horn spiked several years ago when it was rumored a government official had cured his cancer by consuming the horn in powdered form.

Similarly, pangolin scales, tiger bones and bear bile are all believed to have medicinal properties to maintain good health or treat certain ailments. The meat from animals such as civets, turtles and pangolins is seen as a delicacy.

But there is only an illegal wildlife trade as long as there is a demand for these animals. Alegria Olmedo, a senior project officer combating illegal wildlife trade for WWF in Vietnam, said the typical customer fits a certain profile, and the purchase of these products are used as a marker of social status.

“Generally speaking, consumers of wildlife products belong to a very wealthy demographic who wish to reaffirm their status through the purchase, use and display of such products among their close social circle,” she said. “The other significant group of consumers are those purchasing wildlife products as medicine for themselves or their loved ones.”

Vietnamese authorities have come under fire for not doing enough to curb the illegal wildlife trade in the country. It is also no secret that many senior officials are among those who use these animal products.

The WWF recently published a petition letter on its website demanding the Vietnamese government take action to curb the trade, and went so far as to urge other countries to implement trade sanctions if nothing was done.

Seizures are made by police and customs authorities from time to time. Just in October, 2.5 tons of ivory was found in timber shipments at Ho Chi Minh City’s port, and 300 kilograms was discovered at Hanoi’s international airport.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc subsequently issued a directive for the Ministry of Public Security to work with other government agencies to coordinate investigations into wildlife trafficking, and state media was instructed to launch a public awareness campaign.

The WWF’s Olmedo said their organization had only recently started working towards tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam, and their approach was focused on anti-poaching, demand reduction and policy enforcement.

“We are currently working on a project that addresses demand for rhino horn by working with the corporate and transportation sector to encourage them to adopt a zero-tolerance policy of wildlife consumption within their business practices,” she said. “We will also launch a campaign in central Vietnam within the next two months which aims to reduce the consumption of wild meat through the commitment of local authorities and targeting wild meat consumers.”