- The sale of ivory products has increased by over six times from 2008 to 2015, according to a new report by Save the Elephants.
- The number of ivory carvers have increased at least 10-fold, the researchers estimate, while the number of shops selling ivory have risen by nearly three times.
- The primary change, the report found, was the expansion of the ivory trade in villages south of Hanoi, which have lower labor and machine production costs, making ivory items cheaper in Vietnam and more attractive to the Chinese.
Illegal ivory markets are booming in Vietnam.
The sale of ivory products has increased by over six times from 2008 to 2015, according to a new report released Tuesday by Save the Elephants, a UK-registered charity based in Nairobi. In fact, Vietnam’s production of illegal ivory items has risen the most rapidly among all ivory industries in Asia, the report says.
Researchers Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin surveyed ivory trade routes, shops, villages, and artisans in Vietnam, and found that the main source of ivory in the country are tusks smuggled from Africa, putting African elephants at risk. Some ivory also comes via Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
A previous survey in 2008 found that there were at least 17 ivory carvers in Vietnam. But since 2008, the number of ivory carvers have increased at least 10-fold, the researchers estimate, while the number of shops selling ivory have risen by nearly three times.
“The key change was the expansion of the ivory trade in villages south of Hanoi,” Vigne said in a statement. “An increase in the number of Asian tourists in the Central Highlands area of Buon Ma Thuot, for example, has driven up demand causing the ivory business to flourish as it offers a relatively quick way to make money.”
Moreover, with restrictions on ivory trade in China increasing, illegal Chinese traders are turning more to the Vietnamese markets, driving up the demand for ivory trade, the survey found.
The smuggled raw ivory is quickly, and illegally, processed into large quantities of bangles, beads and other jewelry pieces that can be transported easily. Lower labor and machine production costs (ivory artisans earn an average $260 a month, for example) makes ivory items cheaper in Vietnam, in turn making them more attractive to the Chinese. In fact, three-fourths of the buyers are from mainland China, according to the report.
Vietnamese law bans all trade in wild elephant products. But one provision allows trade in ivory products crafted before 1992 when the government’s legislation was passed. This loophole weakens law enforcement, the researchers say, and Vietnam continues to be one the largest importers of illegal ivory.
In July 2015, for example, the Vietnamese border police arrested a lorry driver with 387 kilograms (853 pounds) of tusks at the Ha Tien international border gate. The tusks were coming from Cambodia into Vietnam. Then in August 2015, officials seized 593 kilograms (~1,307 pounds) of ivory coming from Mozambique at the Vietnamese port of Danang.
The researchers also found that in the northern villages, where majority of the artisans work, the traders appeared to be relaxed and open about their ivory trade, and allowed photographs to be taken. Most vendors also did not differentiate between legal and illegal ivory products.
“Lackadaisical law enforcement at both Vietnamese and Chinese customs at the land borders has enabled the illegal ivory trade to flourish, and the illegal killing of elephants in Africa continues unabated,” Vigne and Martin said in the statement. “The Vietnamese government has done little to prevent ivory cyber trafficking, with ivory items openly for sale on online chats”.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder and CEO of Save the Elephants, added: “We have seen great gains made against the ivory trade over the past year, with a federal ban in the US, a timeline announced by Hong Kong and a presidential commitment from China. We must work together with governments to prevent markets from springing up elsewhere like Vietnam.”