Increased demand from Asian markets fuels poaching and pushes African rhino populations to near extinction.
Vietnam has destroyed a huge stockpile of ivory and rhino horn in the run-up to an international conference the country is hosting on illegal wildlife trafficking.
More than two tonnes of elephant ivory and 70kg of rhino horn were crushed and burned on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi on Saturday, in a country where ivory use in traditional medicine and for decoration remains widespread, especially among the communist country’s growing elite.
The seized horns, estimated to be worth more than $7m on the black market, came from some 330 African elephants and 23 rhinos that were slaughtered by poachers to meet the country’s demands.
“The destruction today is a clear indication of our government’s political determination to fulfil our international duty in conventions to protect wildlife,” said Ha Cong Tuan, Vietnam’s deputy agriculture minister.
Between 2010 and 2012, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed illegally to meet global demand for ivory. Over the past decade, poachers killed more than 6,000 rhinos across Africa, with more than 1,300 taken in 2015 alone.
The ivory and rhino horn trade is officially banned in Vietnam, but the Southeast Asian country is a popular transit point for illegal wildlife destined for neighbouring China, the main market for products fuelling the illicit and lucrative business.
“Elephants are disappearing in certain areas and rhinos have almost disappeared, so it is important to show the willingness of the whole world to fight against poaching,” Mozambique’s ambassador to Vietnam, Gamaliel Munguambe, told AFP news agency.
Conservationists have urged Vietnam’s government to crack down on smugglers who facilitate the trade.
“Vietnam is doing so much in terms of educating the public, trying to reduce demand, increasing the number of seizures – it’s a lot of positive news here, but there are some holes,” said Teresa Telecky, director of Wildlife at Humane Society International.
She urged the government to increase DNA sampling of ivory and rhino horn to track where it was coming from to cut off supply chains.
Saturday’s burning came before a major international wildlife conference in Hanoi opening on Thursday that will be attended by Britain’s Prince William, who has championed animal conservation.