There are three species of elephant worldwide; the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian elephant. African elephants are found across the African continent throughout the savannah zones of the Sahara desert and into the forests of central and west Africa. Asian elephants ranged from the Iranian coastlines of west Asia to as far east as the Yangtze river in China. Now however only scattered populations remain throughout south and southeast Asian countries.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, their wild population has remarkably dropped to 350,000-500,000 in Africa and 25,000 - 33,000 in Asia, largely due to the massive illicit poaching for ivory trade. In 2012 alone, some 35,000 or 96 elephants per day were killed in Africa. The Asian elephant is considered endangered by the IUCN.

Viet Nam has seen a sharp decline of the wild elephant population from 2000 individuals in the mid-1990s to less than 100 elephants in 2006 and as low as 50 according to Viet Nam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Populations are scattered from the North to the South of central Viet Nam.


Poaching is the major threat to population sustainability for elephants across the world. Elephants are hunted for the ivory trade across the globe and Viet Nam is recognised as being a large consumer of ivory products as well as a major transit hub for distribution throughout Asia. In Viet Nam, most ivory is produced into jewellery, sculptures and religious artefacts.

What are we doing?

WCS Viet Nam work at a high level with the Vietnamese authorities to build capacity and shape policy which enables effective oversight of illegal wildlife trade activities.

We build intelligence on crime syndicates, locations of illegal wildlife sale/production, smuggling routes which can help local law enforcement agencies with their investigations and arrests.

WCS has conducted investigations on hubs for the sale of ivory and produced evidence of large operations in villages close to Ha Noi. This information has shown that these hubs are predominantly visited by tourists from China and wholesalers throughout Viet Nam, China and Thailand. This reporting is very useful information and can be used to aid ongoing long term Vietnamese police investigations.

WCS recognises the importance of not only physical field investigations, but monitoring different trade platforms such as through the internet. Research by WCS has returned information to suggest that social media is the largest platform for the sale and purchase of illegal wildlife products, with most available products being produced from ivory. This research can help to refine targeted investigations and stress the importance of online monitoring to the Vietnamese authorities.


Choudhury, A., Lahiri Choudhury, D.K., Desai, A., Duckworth, J.W., Easa, P.S., Johnsingh, A.J.T., Fernando, P., Hedges, S., Gunawardena, M., Kurt, F., Karanth, U., Lister, A., Menon, V., Riddle, H., Rübel, A. & Wikramanayake, E. (IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group). 2008. Elephas maximus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 07 July 2017.

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