Last month, in a landmark win for wildlife and counter-trafficking efforts, an ivory bust was processed through the Cambodian courts for the first time. The suspect was arrested in Siem Reap airport, where he was caught trying to smuggle 15 elephant tusks weighing 43 kg, 11 pieces of dried elephant tails weighing 1.9 kg, and 0.2 kg of claws and fangs of an unidentified big cat. Airport officials pulled the smuggler aside for questioning after finding his travel route suspicious. Flying from Angola, the trader stopped in Ethiopia, South Korea and Cambodia, before finally heading to his home country of Vietnam. The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) is cooperating with local officials to find the buyers, whom they believe live locally. The perpetrator has been charged with two counts of smuggling, and if found guilty could face 5 to 10 years in prison.

This case is also significant because it is the first time that the WRRT has been invited by customs officials to assist in a bust, and demonstrates to criminal networks that the government is taking international wildlife trafficking seriously. Strengthening ties with border and airport customs has been a major focus of the WRRT over the past three years, and this increased cooperation has already led to several successful seizures, including three tons of ivory seized at Sihanoukville harbor in May 2014. The WRRT, in conjunction with Wildlife Alliance’s Kouprey Express Mobile Environmental Education Team, has led several training sessions with customs officials to help improve the awareness of airport staff on the proper identification of wildlife as well as to help identify trafficking methods used by traders that transport wildlife through airfreight. These trainings have been very well received, and have proved to be beneficial in building the capacity of customs officials to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade.

Wildlife Alliance has found that Cambodia is increasingly being targeted as a trade route for ivory being transported to Vietnam and China, where it is estimated to be worth over $2,000 per kilogram on the black market. With the senseless slaughter of elephants continuing at unprecedented rates, it is clear that every country involved in the trade must work together to ramp up their efforts to save elephants from extinction. In Cambodia, Wildlife Alliance is directly addressing the illegal wildlife trade by strengthening law enforcement, while also reducing demand and increasing awareness through education and outreach. Join us in putting an end to the illegal ivory trade by donating today.

The WRRT is a Forestry Administration law enforcement unit led by the Forestry Administration, in cooperation with the Military Police, with technical and financial support from Wildlife Alliance.