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Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has uncovered evidence that Vietnam is still a major market for illegal wildlife products, despite Hanoi’s stated commitment that it is tackling the issue.
The investigation comes a few days before the Southeast Asian nation hosts an international conference on stopping the illicit trade.
On Saturday, Vietnamese authorities in the capital ground down and burned two tonnes of ivory and 70kg of rhino – all seized from smugglers – in a symbolic move designed to show the government’s commitment to thwarting wildlife crime.
But the new evidence raises questions over potential Vietnamese double standards, allowing endangered animals to be trafficked just an hour’s drive from where the conference will be held later this week.
A Dutch group filmed secretly in the village of Nhi Khe, located only 50km from Hanoi, and shared the video exclusively with Al Jazeera as part of an investigation into the rhino horn trade.
“We found several shop signs there which said ‘ivory’, ‘rhino horn’, ‘tiger’, and very clearly advertising these items for sale,” said Pauline Verheij, of the Wildlife Justice Commission.
In the footage, a woman is seen entering a room and placing a big rhino horn on a table.
“I think they are mostly interested in the weight and the price,” Verheij said.
In one year, body parts from about 900 elephants, 600 rhino, more than 200 tigers, and other endangered species all ended up in Nhi Khe.
Dealers continue to advertise the items for sale online.
“A place like this cannot exist without local authorities being in the know and facilitating it,” Verheij said.
The Dutch team amassed a large dossier of evidence on the village, hoping that the Vietnamese government would make good on its promise to get tough on wildlife traffickers.
“We have sent it to numerous ministries and individuals within the Vietnamese authorities and the reaction has been almost unanimously silence,” said Olivia Swaak-Goldman, also of the Wildlife Justice Commission.
“We’ve given them every opportunity. Now it’s too late.”