File photo of seized ivory © Margot  L'Hermite / WWF-France

File photo of seized ivory © Margot L'Hermite / WWF-France


Published 11 November 2016

Viet Nam under scrutiny after remarkable sequence of ivory seizures

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 11th November 2016—A staggering five significant ivory seizures in the weeks leading up to Viet Nam hosting a major intergovernmental event on illegal wildlife trade highlights ongoing concerns about the nation’s role in illicit wildlife trade. 

In total, Vietnamese authorities confiscated over four and a half tonnes of trafficked ivory during October 2016. The first confiscation, a 309 kg shipment from Lagos, Nigeria, was the only one made at Ha Noi’s Noi Bai International Airport and took place on 1 October. The date coincided with the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17) taking place in South Africa, where Viet Nam and other countries were reporting to the international community on their efforts to combat the illegal trade of wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn. 

The other seizures took place in Cat Lai Sea Port in Ho Chi Minh City on 6 October, when the largest seizure—569 pieces of ivory totalling two tonnes—declared as timber from Mozambique took place; on 21st a container with 595 kg of ivory and 277 kg of pangolin scales from Mozambique was seized; on 26th, almost a tonne of ivory originating in Kenya and bound for Cambodia was seized; finally, on 31st, Customs seized 446 kg ivory from Nigeria. 

The seizures took place just weeks ahead of the Hanoi Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, which takes place on 16-18 November, when representatives from around 50 nations will meet to review their progress in addressing wildlife crime following commitments made at the London Conference in 2014 and the Kasane Conference in 2015

In many ways these interdictions could not have come at a more opportune time for highlighting Viet Nam’s significant role in international ivory trafficking

Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s expert on ivory trade

An analysis of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), released just ahead of CITES CoP17, identified Viet Nam as a “country of primary concern” because of its role as both a transit conduit and an end-use market for large quantities of ivory flowing from Africa to Asia. The report noted the growing evidence of ivory processing in Viet Nam, especially for cross border ivory trade primarily catering to Chinese tourists. 

“The agencies who made the seizures are to be congratulated, but the fact remains that international criminal networks are trafficking large quantities of ivory into Viet Nam, which is deeply damaging to a nation whose reputation is already tarnished over its role as a major driver of rhino poaching in Africa and Asia,” said Milliken. 

“TRAFFIC urges Viet Nam to carry out its obligations under CITES and ensure the ivory in these large-scale seizures is forensically examined so that every lead can be followed up—such action is essential both to support the international efforts to end wildlife crime and for Viet Nam’s national dignity.” 

Last year, TRAFFIC highlighted Da Nang Port in Viet Nam as an emerging location of choice for trafficking ivory from Africa. The latest seizures at Cat Lai Sea Port signal the criminals behind the trafficking adapt quickly to enforcement efforts. However, according to the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, less than 1% of confiscations in Viet Nam result in convictions. 

“Criminal gangs persist with trafficking via Viet Nam and doubtless the light penalties and very low risk of prosecution are major factors in that decision—this November’s Ha Noi conference is the ideal opportunity for Viet Nam to demonstrate to the international community that it can and will get tough with those whose activities are bringing the nation into disrepute,” said Madelon Willemsen, Head of TRAFFIC’s Viet Nam Office. 

The pressure on Viet Nam is likely to rise further next week when the Wildlife Justice Commission, who investigate global organized criminal networks, holds a Public Hearing on 14–15 November at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. There, a panel of expert witnesses will highlight the country’s ongoing failure to live up to its international obligations to end wildlife crime. 

“Viet Nam should be open about what it still needs to do and what support it needs from the international community to play a full role in the global efforts to bring down the organized criminals networks trafficking wildlife,” said Willemsen. 

“TRAFFIC offers our full support to assist with this process and sincerely hopes our offer will not be spurned.” 

At next week’s Hanoi Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, TRAFFIC will be calling on governments to implement their commitments made under the London Declaration and Kasane Statement and at CITES CoP17. These include commitments to close domestic ivory markets and phase out tiger and bear farms; enhance trade monitoring, anti-corruption activities and enforcement actions such as the use of controlled deliveries related to wildlife trafficking; improve relevant legislation and impose heavier penalties for wildlife crime; and increase information exchange between enforcement agencies regionally and globally.