By Yulia Khouri (Photo by Steve Porte)
“Elephants cannot be manufactured. Once they’re gone, they cannot be replaced.” Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Under the blazing sun at Kandal port on Dec. 16, a team of 20 Wildlife Alliance (WA) team members were boiling the wax off thousands of animal body parts. Elephant tusks, pangolin scales and cheetah skeletons were among those parts. This was the biggest wildlife trafficking bust yet. WA says this is one of “the largest seizures of illegal animal parts ever recorded”. The Cambodian government discovered 1.3 metric tons of African elephant tusks. The smuggled animal parts were hidden in the midst of 116 rare timber logs shipped in three containers from Pemba, Mozambique. It took three days for customs officers, WA and the US Embassy to excavate the 640 elephant tusks and tusk pieces, 10 cheetah skulls and 82kgs of bones, and 137kgs of pangolin scales ensconced in a heavy, white wax substance and concealed inside three wooden coffins.
Behind the shocking discovery is a dark global business of illegal wildlife trafficking. The ignorant but skillfully-crafted and preserved narrative of the imaginary medicinal value of wildlife body parts is what keeps this bloody trade going strong. The dark irony, however, is that this industry is killing the planet and the global eco-system, and will eventually come to hunt us. The loss of elephants gravely affects many species that depend on elephant-maintained ecosystems and causes major habitat chaos in addition to destroying the structure and diversity of nature itself. To lose elephants is to lose a major “environmental caretaker”.
Yet, the world is losing more of the mammals than the population can reproduce. The big tusks of bull elephants are the main target; their numbers have declined to less than half of the female population. Female African elephants are also killed for their tusks and it has a terrible effect on the stability of elephant societies, leaving an increasing number of orphaned babies. One conservation group says that as of 2016, there are more African elephants being killed for ivory than are being born.
The perpetrators must face justice. In the latest case, the suspect has been identified as a Vietnamese national specialising in illegal wildlife trafficking between Africa and China.
As I see the Cambodian government and Wildlife Alliance cooperation in these raids, I am proud of be their Ambassador. My call today to all is to end the demand for the wildlife remains. The only way to stop the supply is to bring those who buy it to justice as well; to me, they are just as complacent and guilty as those who are murdering the wildlife and trafficking it around the globe.
Yulia Khouri is the Wildlife Alliance ambassador. For more information, visit wildlifealliane.org.