By Ry Sochan, The Phnom Penh Post
A Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) report said wildlife traders have stockpiled large quantities of ivory in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because of difficulties in transporting it to China due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and border closings.
The report which was released April 29 said: “Effects have been seen in the Southeast Asian ivory retail markets that serve mainly Chinese clientele.
“While ivory markets have been on the rise in Cambodia and conversely declining in Laos, sellers in both countries are experiencing a dramatic fall in the number of Chinese customers due to travel restrictions.
“Intelligence indicates that batches of raw ivory are also being stashed in Cambodia. The apparent spread of ivory between Vietnam and Cambodia could mean it is being transported to Cambodia for carving and processing, which is plausible considering the recent rise in the number of ivory retail markets in Cambodia.”
The report said recent WJC missions to Phnom Penh established that Covid-19 is affecting the capital’s ivory retail markets.
Tour guides and shop owners told WJC operatives that there are very few Chinese tourists and customers in the capital. Many of them had gone back to China in late January for the lunar New Year and have been unable to return due to travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
“If a lack of customers and market closures continue for a prolonged period, retailers may increase the online sale of wildlife products to continue doing business,” the report said.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Tuesday that if the WJC has specific information regarding the stockpiling of ivory or other animal specimens it should cooperate with authorities to enforce the law.
Cambodia is committed to joining the fight against the illegal wildlife trade with the world, he said.
“Cambodian authorities have seized rhinoceros horns and carved products made from ivory that were illegally imported into the Kingdom and exported to other countries.
“From 2016 to late 2018, thousands of ivory and rhino horns weighing more than five tonnes were seized by authorities. Also, pangolin scales and other wildlife bones were seized as well,” he said.
Pheaktra said the ministry has notified 59 souvenir business owners, of which 27 are in the capital, 30 in Siem Reap, and two in Sihanoukville, about the suspected selling of horns and ivory and trading in other forms of wildlife.
They were required to stop their illegal activities immediately.
A raid in March by Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) exposed the dark underbelly of Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade, Wildlife Alliance Cambodia posted on Facebook on April 16.
The organisation said after receiving a tipoff from the Wildlife Justice Commission, WRRT raided a carving factory in Phnom Penh suspected of holding illegal wildlife products.
The suspect was found with 6.58kg of ivory, 5.5kg of tiger bones, 1 tiger tooth, 1.03kg of pangolin scales, and 103 dead seahorses, it added. A Chinese national was arrested and was put in pre-trial detention.