A massive shipment of ivory that was discovered in Vietnam this week, stashed among boxes of fruit, did not originate from South Africa, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs.
State media in Vietnam have reported that the 2.7 tons of tusks seized from a truck in the central Thanh Hoa province, originated from South Africa.
But Eleanor Momberg, a spokeswoman for the department, disputed this.
“The ivory did not originate from South Africa,” she said.
Daniel Willcox, of the elephants campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency, said he was unsure what the claim was based on.
“The state authorities might have had sight of some sort of shipping documents but at this stage, it’s impossible to know for certain,” he said.
A report published last year by Save the Elephants on how Vietnam’s illegal ivory trade threatened Africa’s elephants, documented how its illicit trade was now one of the biggest in the world “with trucks smuggled into Vietnam, nearly all from Africa”.
Andrea Crosta, the co-founder of the non-profit Elephant Action League, said the Thanh Hoa seizure “looks like a lot of ivory, large pieces, months old, if not more.
“It was probably consolidated over many months, with ivory coming from different places
Angola is a concrete possibility, maybe Zambia or even further away,” said Crosta.
“You never know with these large seizures how the main trafficker organised the acquisition and consolidation of the cargo.”
Neil Greenwood, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s head of programmes and operations for southern Africa, said that trafficking of contraband was complex and was “dictated by the availability of routes and corruption.
“To move their contraband across international borders, traffickers need to find access points where the likelihood of detection is at its most vulnerable.
“So while the contraband might be sourced from a number of different locations (in the case of ivory poaching, a number of different protected areas) it’s then stockpiled and moved through these access points only when reasonably secure routes are found.
“Moving any contraband is a highly risky business so the fewer times it needs to be done to meet the consignment requirement, the better.
“South Africa and Mozambique are particularly vulnerable as they are major shipping countries where contraband may be concealed and hidden among legal trade commodities which are being legally exported.”
Trang Nguyen, of WildAct, a conservation charity in Hanoi, said her research on the illegal ivory trade in Cambodia and Vietnam with Fauna and Flora International had indicated there would be more seizures in countries neighbouring China.
“As the Chinese now ban the trade in ivory completely, many Chinese immigrants and tourists travel to countries with weak enforcement such as Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and set up their own businesses trading ivory openly.” - read the research here: http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/25149/chinese-visitors-fuel-kingdom---s-ivory-market/
Willcox said elephant poaching in the Kruger, which rose in 2015/2016, seemed to have slowed down now “or the drought is masking the number of illegal killings/poachings)”.
He pointed to the latest report on the 2016 trends in African elephant poaching, released in March by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants programme.
It noted the number of illegally killed elephants reported remained almost the same: 30 in 2015 and 46 in 2016.
The resulting proportion of illegally killed elephants’ value for Kruger declined from 0.41 to 0.2, the report stated.
“This may be explained by two consecutive years of below-average rainfall and potentially higher natural mortality rather than an actual decline in the poaching losses there,” said the report.