Operation Jeopardy: The Growing Relevance of Cambodia in the Global Ivory Trade

A ten-month investigation of ivory trafficking in Cambodia by the Wildlife Justice Commission has highlighted a geographical shift in the trade and production, with criminal networks moving away from countries with stronger law enforcement and policy developments into more vulnerable territories that lack the capacity to effectively tackle transnational organised crime.

Operation Jeopardy evidences the trend in Cambodia, which is becoming a significant hub for ivory production. Changes in legislation and improved enforcement measures appear to be resulting in a level of crime displacement from China, Vietnam and Lao PDR to Cambodia, a country not previously recognised as a major illegal ivory hub.

Routing of seized ivory shipments relating to Cambodia since 2016.

On 29 December 2016, the General Office of the State Council of China issued a notice [No. 103] ordering the closure of the domestic commercial trade and processing of ivory in China by the end of 2017.

The lead up to and adoption of this policy and subsequent enforcement efforts have since influenced the dynamics of wildlife crime in the region. During its investigations, the Wildlife Justice Commission has observed the wider effects of the ban both through a decline in demand and price for raw, unprocessed ivory, and the switch by some wildlife criminals to selling processed ivory, which is easier and safer to transport. Thus outlining the observed impact of the ivory ban in China, from a regional and therefore, global perspective.

Operation Jeopardy, a year-long investigation into the trafficking of ivory in Cambodia, has revealed the geographical displacement of this transnational crime in Southeast Asia, with criminal networks moving away from countries with strengthened law enforcement action, such as China and Vietnam, into more vulnerable ones.

Wildlife Justice Commission

The urgent need for international law enforcement cooperation

As recently as May 2020, our investigators have received offers of wildlife products from traffickers in Cambodia, including raw ivory tusks priced at USD 1,600 per kg, evidencing the persistence of ivory trafficking despite the raid. Increased political will and law enforcement efforts to tackle transnational wildlife crime in China and bordering countries has shifted the open ivory trade to more vulnerable countries, such as Cambodia, with lesser capacity to fight it.

International and intelligence-led law enforcement cooperation is crucial to address any form of transnational organised crime. The trafficking of wildlife is no exception. Cross-border collaboration, including the sharing of intelligence, can increase the effectiveness of efforts to address the illegal ivory trade across the Greater Mekong Subregion.