PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian police said they arrested two Vietnamese men on Monday who were trying to smuggle almost 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of illegal ivory from Africa.
Deputy provincial police chief Um Amra said the two men were caught with the elephant tusks after arriving in the northwestern town of Siem Reap on a flight from South Korea. He said the ivory was originally shipped from Angola, and the men said they planned to sell it in Vietnam.
Almost all trade in ivory is banned under international agreements. The seizure comes at a time of increased focus on illegal wildlife trafficking.
Um Amra said police became suspicious when they saw the men lugging two heavy bags past customs officers.
It was the first known case of ivory smuggling through Siem Reap, a busy tourist destination and site of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
More than 400 suspects were arrested in January in Asia and Africa in a crackdown by 28 nations on poaching that is threatening to wipe out elephants and other wildlife species in Africa. Cambodia was one of the nations involved the monthlong “Operation Cobra II,” but it was not immediately known whether Monday’s arrests were related.
Vietnam and China are major destinations for ivory. In late January, police in the West African nation of Togo said they seized 1,689 kilograms (3,723 pounds) of elephant tusks concealed in a container destined for Vietnam. The market price of ivory is more than $1,000 a pound ($2,200 per kilogram) and has more than doubled in the past five years, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, according to CITES, the international body that monitors endangered species. In 2012, an estimated 22,000 African elephants were poached for their tusks, according to a study prepared by CITES and other conservation groups.