Ivory trade is booming in Vietnam


Jerome Starkey, The Times

Date Published

Vietnam has become one of the world’s fastest growing ivory markets
with a sixfold increase in the number of items on sale over the past
eight years, most of them trinkets for Chinese tourists.

Lucy Vigne and Esmond Bradley Martin, two leading ivory trade
researchers, also found that the number of people carving elephant
tusks in Vietnam had risen tenfold to 79 since 2008. Visitors from
mainland China accounted for about 75 per cent of the ivory’s buyers,
the researchers said. That included tourists buying souvenirs and
wholesalers buying in bulk.

“No other country is known to be as active in both illegal imports of
new raw tusks and illegal exports of ivory products,” they said in a

While the price of uncarved tusks in Vietnam was about $1,100 a
kilogram, the same as in China, research for the charity group Save
the Elephants found that Vietnamese carvers were paid £150 to £300 a
month, roughly a tenth of wages earned by those in China.

“Lower overheads, cheaper labour, machine production and the absence
of an identification system make ivory items cheaper in Vietnam and
thus attractive to mainland Chinese,” the report said.

Vietnam has long been cited as the world’s main market for rhino horn,
pushing the animals to the brink of extinction. The report warned,
however, that Vietnam’s illegal ivory trade was one of the largest. Ms
Vigne said that tourists had driven up demand “causing the ivory trade
to flourish”.

Most of the ivory on sale in Vietnam eight years ago came from Asian
elephants, a separate report said, but the researchers warned that
nearly all the elephant tusks now coming into Vietnam were from
Africa. “Hardly any expensive ivory items for retail sale were seen,”
they said. Most of the items were bangles and beads. “The cheapest
ivory item was $2 for a thin ring.”

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, said that
Chinese demand for ivory had fuelled an “elephant holocaust” in which
100,000 of the animals were poached across Africa from 2010 to 2012.

The price of ivory in China, however, halved last year from a high of
$2,100 a kilogram in 2014 to $1,100 a kilogram in November, which
conservationists hoped could signal softening demand. It followed a
pledge by the American and Chinese governments to enact almost
complete bans on ivory imports.

“We have seen great gains against the ivory trade in the past year,”
he said. “We must work together with governments to prevent markets
from springing up elsewhere, like Vietnam.”