HANOI • The Vietnamese authorities have seized nearly three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit, officials said yesterday, the latest haul that spotlights the country's key role in the global wildlife smuggling trade.
Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa found 2.7 tonnes of tusks inside cartons on the back of a truck that was on its way to Hanoi, according to a report on their website. "This is the largest seizure of smuggled ivory ever in Thanh Hoa province," it added.
State media said the elephant tusks originated from South Africa.
The driver claimed he was unaware of what he was transporting, according to a report in state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.
The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s. There are now believed to be some 415,000, with 30,000 illegally killed each year. Prices for a kilogram of ivory can reach as high as US$1,100(S$1,500).
Vietnam outlawed the trade in 1992 but remains a top market for ivory, which is prized locally and used for decorative purposes or traditional medicine despite having no proven medicinal qualities.
Weak law enforcement in the country has allowed a black market to flourish, and Vietnam is also a busy thoroughfare for tusks trafficked from Africa destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China.
Last October, the Vietnam customs authorities discovered about 3.5 tonnes of elephant tusks at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh city.
The Hong Kong authorities also seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory last week, the city's largest haul in three decades.