Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision

Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision

Officers from Cambodian customs display some of the 1.3 tonnes of African elephant tusks seized from containers shipped from Mozambique to Phnom Penh last year. Wildlife alliance
Officers from Cambodian customs display some of the 1.3 tonnes of African elephant tusks seized from containers shipped from Mozambique to Phnom Penh last year. Wildlife Alliance

Gov’t gets heat for ivory decision

Cambodia, home to a number of large ivory busts in recent years, has rejected calls to destroy its stockpiles – the preferred method internationally for dealing with the seized contraband – with government officials saying they plan to exhibit it instead.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday endorsed a Ministry of Environment recommendation to keep the ivory for “scientific research” and exhibitions.

Environment Minister Say Samal yesterday said there were recent requests from the NGO Wildlife Alliance, USAID and the US Embassy to burn the ivory, but he rejected them.

“We don’t believe in burning [it], and as a sovereign country, we should make our own decision,” he said. “Why should it be burned?”

Samal said the Kingdom believes in using the ivory for educational purposes, such as for scientific research and for display at museums.

“We will be working with domestic museums to see if they are interested, but we don’t share the view that the display promotes the killing of elephants,” he said.

While the research on the effectiveness of destroying ivory as a deterrent is not universally accepted, numerous African countries where ivory is poached and many countries that intercept illegal shipments routinely destroy their stockpiles.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday during a Ministry of Interior event also questioned why the country should destroy the confiscated ivory.

“I heard that America wanted us to destroy it. No. America has no right to order [the] Khmer administration,” he said, adding that he had agreed to keep it for exhibitions “so that people know it’s from South Africa and was busted in Cambodia”.

Rhinoceros horns would also be displayed, he said, adding that some of the endangered items from Africa are almost extinct, which is why the Kingdom prefers to “take care of” the ivory.

He said that other countries would be allowed to borrow the ivory for their own exhibitions, if the request was made.

Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO for Wildlife Alliance, confirmed that her organisation has made several requests to the Cambodian government and to the US Embassy to destroy the confiscated ivory, but declined to further comment on the issue.

Jay Raman, spokesman for the US Embassy, said he couldn’t provide information on the topic yesterday as the embassy was closed.

Several leaders with other wildlife NGOs declined to comment or referred questions to other people.

Sarah Brook, a technical adviser with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that she would be “more concerned” about the security of keeping the ivory.

“I would doubt that museums would be able to keep it secure and prevent it from returning to the trade,” she said.

Usual practice in handling illegal ivory is to destroy it or send it back to the country of origin, she said.

“A large number of countries are destroying it to send a message that this is an illegal activity that won’t be tolerated and prevent it from returning to the trade,” she said.

Meanwhile, an official from the Department of Customs and Excise, who declined to be named, yesterday said authorities are still searching for Nguyen Tien Chuong, 31, the suspect believed to be behind a massive 1.3-tonne ivory bust in December.

“We are hunting for him,” he said.

“The ministries of environment and interior had a meeting about this matter to [take] further measures.”

MOST VIEWED

  • All Covid restrictions for inbound travellers lifted

    Cambodia has apparently taken the final step towards full reopening of the country without Covid-19 restrictions by removing all requirements for inbound travellers, who until now had to show health certificates indicating that they have tested Covid-19 negative in the past 72 hours as well as

  • Typhoon Noru brings flash floods – 16 dead

    An official warned that that the 16th typhoon of the season, Noru, had brought heavy rains to areas the Mekong River and flooded thousands of homes in the provinces bordering Thailand. As of September 27, the death toll from the flooding had risen to 16. National Committee

  • Cambodia stands firm on 5PC: No invite for Myanmar to ASEAN Summit this year

    Cambodia has not invited Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC), to the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings scheduled for next month in Phnom Penh. The government will instead invite a non-political representative from Myanmar

  • Mushrooming borey projects and home financing – a cause for concern?

    A spurt in housing developments is typically a sign of a growing economy but underneath all that might lay some anxiety of credit growth as developers offer financing to buyers at higher rates, an activity the central bank identifies as ‘shadow banking’ Earlier this year,

  • Thai Senate delegates in Cambodia to discuss anti-graft co-op

    A delegation from Thailand's Senate was in Phnom Penh on September 28 to meet their Cambodian counterparts to discuss strategies for fighting corruption and enhancing cooperation. The Thai delegates were from its Senate’s Committee on Studying and Inspecting Corruption, Misconduct and Strengthening Good Governance. They

  • Scholarship winner tells secrets to success

    Chhim Chaknineath was awarded the Chevening Scholarship for one year of postgraduate study in the UK for the academic year 2022-2023 along with a group of 10 other outstanding students who applied. She spent more than a year researching and studying – as well as consulting with