From Tusk to Trinket – Persistent illegal ivory markets in Viet Nam

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Hanoi, Viet Nam, 13th December 2018— Illegal ivory is widely available in physical and online retail outlets throughout Viet Nam according to a new TRAFFIC report published with support from USAID.

The December study, “From Tusk to Trinket – Persistent illegal ivory markets in Viet Nam,” documents surveys carried out at 852 retails outlets in 13 locations and 60 individual sellers across 17 online platforms between November 2016 and June 2017.

Key Findings

Although selling ivory is illegal in Viet Nam, researchers found more than 10,500 items for sale, demonstrating the persistence of the ivory retail market.

In particular, the report found:

1. Viet Nam’s illegal ivory market is persistent, but retailers are often transitory

Although ivory was found in all 13 locations surveyed, [Note 1] its sale appears to be highly transitory in nature: repeat visits found that 43% of retail outlets observed with ivory had only just begun to offer ivory, stopped offering ivory, or closed their doors, over the course of the survey. The comparable figure for online retailers was 86%.

2. There are clear links between Viet Nam’s physical ivory markets and online outlets

The surveyors found that retail outlets are expanding their networks to sell ivory items online, and vice versa. In eight instances, online sellers were either linked to physical stores or physical stores were also selling their items on social media websites, e-commerce websites, or online forums.

3. Tourists, particularly from China, are significant buyers

Chinese nationals were reported as buyers by multiple sellers, and tourist villages emerged as particularly significant retailers of ivory. Prices were sometimes quoted in currencies such as Chinese Yuan and US Dollars.

4. Ivory jewellery and pendants comprise the vast majority of ivory items being sold

Jewellery items accounted for over 90% of all the ivory items found online and in physical outlets. Jewellery products tend to be smaller in size, which makes them easier to store, carry, transport or deliver, likely making them popular for buyers in both physical and online markets.

Although retailers know that selling ivory is illegal, it does not deter them from offering it openly for sale in Viet Nam. Regulatory and enforcement efforts must catch up to the markets, or the Vietnamese illegal ivory market will remain one of the largest in the world” – Sarah Ferguson, Director of TRAFFIC in Viet Nam

Sellers consistently reported Viet Nam as the origin of the ivory for sale, however, this is highly unlikely given the overwhelming majority of ivory seized in the country is from African Elephants, and fewer than 100 wild Asian Elephants exist in Viet Nam. Around 20,000 African Elephants are poached each year for their tusks, which are mostly trafficked to Asia to meet the demand for ivory.

To reduce and eliminate Viet Nam’s illicit ivory markets, the report offers a number of recommendations aimed at the Vietnamese government, conservation groups, and the wider stakeholder community to take action. They include closing legislative loopholes, boosting enforcement capacity and increasing deterrents against criminal activity, restricting the market availability of ivory, reducing consumer demand for ivory, and continuing to monitor market trends. Repeat surveys, in particular, provide insight into the trends and nature of Viet Nam’s transitory ivory market.

In 2013, Viet Nam was instructed by the CITES Secretariat to prepare a National Ivory Action Plan as part of its international responsibility under the Convention to address illegal ivory trade and curtail the associated poaching of elephants. The Plan included activities addressing regulations, corruption and ivory stockpile management, among other things. In October 2018, a meeting of CITES concluded Viet Nam had still not “substantially achieved” implementation of its Plan.

Until Viet Nam takes decisive action against its persistent illegal ivory markets in line with its commitments under CITES, it will continue to undermine the international response to the elephant poaching crisis,” said Minh Nguyen, Research and Data Management Officer at TRAFFIC.

In summary

  • 43% of retail outlets observed with ivory had only just begun to offer ivory
  • 90% of all the ivory items found online and in physical outlets were jewellery
  • 10,500+ ivory items were found for sale

For more information:

Ms Amanda Quinn Communications Officer for TRAFFIC in Viet Nam
[email protected]

Richard Thomas Global Communications Co-ordinator
+44 (0)1223 331 981, (m) +44 (0)7921 309176
[email protected]


  1. Locations included 10 cities (Ha Noi, Hai Phong, Ha Long, Mong Cai, Vinh, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Buon Ma Thuot and HCMC) and three villages (Nhi Khe in Ha Noi; Ban Don and Lak in Daklak Province)

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