Published 9 July 2012

TRAFFIC survey highlights Lao PDR’s dark trade in ivory

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 9th July—Lao PDR is playing a more prominent role in the international ivory trade than was previously thought, says a new report launched by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

A recent TRAFFIC survey found more than 2,100 ivory pieces on sale in two luxury hotels in Vientiane. © Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC

The report points to the significantly higher volume of ivory items openly on sale in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) and the seizures of African ivory en route to the country as indicators of its growing involvement in the illegal trade. 

The Role of Lao PDR in the Ivory Trade, which appears in the latest issue of the TRAFFIC Bulletin, details a TRAFFIC survey carried out in August 2011 that found 2,493 pieces of ivory, including jewelry, name seals and raw tusks, openly on sale in 24 retail outlets mostly in the capital Vientiane, compared to just over a hundred ivory items observed in nine shops in 2002. 

International visitors appear to be the main buyers, especially in Vientiane where more than 2,100 ivory pieces were found on sale in two luxury hotels where ivory prices were quoted in US Dollars and Chinese Yuan, rather than in the Laotian Kip. 

Two cabinets in the Don Chan Palace Hotel alone displayed a staggering 1,843 ivory items for sale. There were also a large number of religious figurines popular with East Asian tourists available.

All ivory trade in Lao PDR is forbidden and no commercial export of ivory from the country is permitted.

Lao PDR has escaped much of the negative attention its neighbours, especially China and Thailand, have suffered on account of their major domestic ivory markets, carving industries and role in the global illegal ivory trade.

However, data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a database of worldwide elephant product seizures managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) reveals Lao PDR is implicated as the destination in four large seizures made between 2009 and 2011, totalling more than four tonnes of ivory. Lao PDR certainly functions as a transit point for ivory heading to China and Thailand, but it may also be emerging as a final destination as the latest TRAFFIC survey indicates a growing market for ivory products. 

The report recommends the confiscation of all ivory on sale in Lao PDR, better monitoring of markets, and greater enforcement and prosecution of offenders. It also urges international co-operation to sever the illicit Africa-to-Asia ivory trade chain. 

Last month Gabon publicly destroyed its audited ivory stockpiles and sent a strong signal of zero tolerance towards elephant poaching in West Africa. 

“While Gabon set an example to the world in destroying its audited ivory, it is vital nothing happens to seized ivory stocks in Asia prior to exhausting all investigative channels,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, and co-author of the TRAFFIC Bulletin report.

“Countries in Asia must do their part to help African countries shut down the illegal ivory supply chain by finding out how the ivory got to them and who was responsible for bringing it there.” 

“Elephant poaching is at crisis levels and demands a co-ordinated global response.”

Other articles featuring in issue 24(1) of the TRAFFIC Bulletin examine the harvesting of Chinese caterpillar fungus and Schissandra plants; the trade in Sugar Gliders; and the sale of Chimpanzees in Guinea-Bissau.