In April, Cambodian authorities intercepted 250 kg (551 lbs) of ivory headed towards Vietnam. According to local newspapers, the officers stopped the van only a few kilometers from the border because it seemed to be struggling under the weight of its cargo. When they searched the van, 10 hidden suitcases containing 77 pieces of ivory were discovered. This major bust comes only one month after 80 kg (176 lbs) of ivory was seized at Siem Reap International Airport. Airport officials confiscated three bags from two Vietnamese nationals flying from Angola via South Korea into Cambodia. The two suspects were stopped while lugging two heavy suitcases past customs officers. The ivory was seized and the two smugglers were arrested on charges of illegal ivory smuggling. It is clear that Cambodia is increasingly being targeted as a new trade route into Vietnam and China, where ivory is estimated to be worth over $2,000 per kilogram on the black market.
The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), which is already focusing much of its efforts on trans-boundary trafficking, will be stepping up its activities this year. Both incidents indicate that the WRRT’s outreach and awareness programs are proving effective. Last year, the WRRT teamed up with the Kouprey Express Mobile Environmental Education Unit to conduct wildlife trafficking training sessions at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh International Airports. Outreach efforts have also been directed at border officials operating in stations at both the Thai and Vietnamese land boundaries. Next month, the team will conduct training sessions at Cambodia’s largest port in Sihanoukville. These training sessions help border and customs officials properly identify illegal wildlife as well as recognize trafficking methods used by smugglers.
As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and Cambodia’s national task force, the WRRT is also cooperating with member countries to coordinate efforts and identify ivory trade networks operating within Cambodia. With elephant populations plummeting, the specialized operations that the WRRT conducts are essential to dismantling the international ivory trade.
The WRRT is a Forestry Administration law enforcement unit led by the Forestry Administration, in cooperation with the Military Police, with technical and financial support from Wildlife Alliance.