Guardian (UK)

Cambodia seizes record three-tonne haul of African ivory

Discovery of 1,026 tusks at Phnom Penh port follows a tip from the US embassy

Agence France-Presse

Sun 16 Dec 2018 06.04 GMT



Cambodian customs officials looking at ivory seized from a shipping container at the Phnom Penh port. Photograph: Ban Chork/AFP/Getty

Cambodia seized more than 3.2 tonnes of elephant tusks hidden in a storage container sent from Mozambique, a customs official said on Sunday, marking the country’s largest ivory bust.

The discovery of 1,026 tusks at the Phnom Penh port followed a tip from the US embassy, the official said, and highlights Cambodia’s emergence as a key regional transit point for the multibillion dollar trade in illicit wildlife.

“The elephant tusks were hidden among marble in a container that was abandoned,” Sun Chhay, director of the customs and excise office at the port, said.

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He said the ivory was sent from the southern African nation of Mozambique and arrived at the port last year.

The unidentified owner of the shipment did not arrive to pick up the cargo. Pictures of the massive haul showed long rows of confiscated tusks spread out on the ground at the port.

Sun Chhay said he did not know whether the shipment was destined for markets in other countries.

Demand from China and Vietnam has fuelled the growth of illegal wildlife trafficking via Cambodia. Weak law enforcement and corruption attract wildlife smugglers, especially at a time when neighbouring Thailand is cracking down on the banned trade.

Ivory is prized for its beauty while the market in traditional medicine has led to the smuggling of rhino horn and pangolin scales.

Cambodia has a miniscule elephant population but its emergence as a new trafficking hub has resulted in several busts over the past five years.

The largest before this week occurred in 2014, when Cambodian customs seized about three tonnes of ivory hidden in a container of beans at the south-western port of Sihanoukville.

Last year, Cambodia also seized nearly a tonne of ivory hidden in hollowed-out logs discovered inside an abandoned container, owned by a company based in Mozambique.