Vietnamese authorities have destroyed more than two tonnes of seized elephant ivory and rhino horns ahead of a key international conference on wildlife trafficking.
The 2,200kg (nearly 5,000lbs) of seized material – estimated to be worth more than seven million dollars (€6.4m) on the black market – came from some 330 African elephants and 23 rhinos which were slaughtered by poachers.
The animals were killed to meet the demand for ivory, which is used to make jewellery and home decorations, and rhino horns, which some people mistakenly believe can cure cancer.
The horns were crushed and then burned on the outskirts of Hanoi, with Vietnam joining 20 other nations in destroying seized wildlife products.
An international conference on the illegal wildlife trade will be held next week in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. It will be attended by officials and experts.
Vietnam is one of the world’s major transit points and consumers of trafficked ivory and rhino horns.
According to the head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), the destruction of ivory and horns ensures that no-one can profit from the contraband and sends a message that “Vietnam is not prepared to tolerate this illegal trade, and that illegal traders now face significant risks along the entire supply chain – in source, transit and destination states”.
Cites secretary-general John Scanlon said that the age and origin of the contraband can now be identified through forensics, making prosecution and conviction more likely.
He said: “As a result of global collective efforts … trading in illegal ivory and rhino horn is shifting from low risk, high profit to high risk.”
Ha Cong Tuan, Vietnam’s vice minister of agriculture and rural development, said at the event: “By organising today’s destruction, Vietnam would like to affirm once again that the Vietnamese government is highly determined in implementing laws, international conventions and fighting law violations.
“It is also a message to those who are thinking of using or trading wildlife products for profit that they must stop; otherwise, they will be severely punished.”
The African elephant is facing an unprecedented poaching and trafficking threat.
From 2010 to 2012, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed illegally to meet the global demand for ivory, according to Humane Society International, an international animal protection group.
Over the past decade, poachers killed more than 6,000 rhinos across Africa. In South Africa, 13 rhinos were poached in 2007, but there has been a dramatic increase in poaching since then, and more than 1,300 were poached in 2015 alone, the group said.
“This is just one of many steps that Vietnam has taken over the last three years to combat wildlife poaching,” said Teresa Telecky, the Humane Society International’s director.
“We are very hopeful that this event will drive the message home to the public that they should not consume rhino horns, they should not consume ivory and get behind the Vietnamese government in trying to stop this.”
In the past two months, authorities in Vietnam have seized four tonnes of ivory smuggled in five shipments from Africa. The destruction on Saturday included 2,183kg (4,800lbs) of ivory and 70kg (154lbs) of rhino horns.
Vietnam has banned poaching of its own dwindling elephant population, while the Javan rhino was declared extinct in the country in 2011.