11 July 2017

Just a week ago, suspicious customs agents in Hong Kong opened a 40 foot shipping container, to find what is being hailed as the largest ever recorded ivory seizure.

An estimated 7.2 tonnes of ivory, representing the death of hundreds of elephants, were found in nylon bags below frozen fish cartons in a shipment arriving from Malaysia. Both Hong Kong and Malaysia are major hubs in the illegal ivory trade.

This was followed by the news that nearly three tonnes of ivory had been seized in the province of Thanh Hoa, Vietnam, which had been hidden in the back of a truck in boxes of fruit and was on its way to Hanoi. The seizure was the largest in this province of Vietnam.

In recent years, political will to wipe out wildlife trafficking has been building momentum, and key consumer markets of ivory – USA, China and the EU - have all made various commitments. China is on track to ban its domestic trade by the end of 2017, and Hong Kong, a key transit destination for ivory bound for China, will hopefully do so earlier than the 2021 date announced late last year.  But these latest seizures leave no room for doubt that the trade in illegal ivory across parts of Asia is alive and well.

The officials involved deserve credit, but in and of themselves, the seizures are no triumph. The elephants whose teeth have been found are dead. The criminal networks co-ordinating the shipments will likely pass the seizures off as a cost of doing ‘business’ and continue with their grisly activities. However, the arrest of three people connected to a trading company in Hong Kong implicated in the seizure there presents an opportunity for law enforcement authorities to collect vital information which may help compromise the criminals co-ordinating this trade. These ‘masterminds’ hold positions of great power and trust within the transnational networks involved in these heinous crimes, and their arrest and prosecution would significantly disrupt trafficking.

Sadly, such outcomes are a rarity, but one hopes that whatever opportunities last week’s seizures offer are not lost, for the sake of the many thousands more elephants who will die unless the scourge of ivory trafficking is brought to an end.

For more information on the ivory trade, visit: Bloody Ivory



Sign up to get the latest Born Free news about our work and how you can help, delivered straight to your inbox.