Logs Serve as Coffins for Ivory and Tiger Bone Stash

A haul of illicit animal parts including elephant ivory and tiger bone was discovered at a Phnom Penh train port on Saturday afternoon in hollowed-out logs shipped from Mozambique after a tip-off from the U.S., officials said.

The intended destination and recipient of the haul remained unclear.

cam photo ivory COLOR
Officials inspect animals parts—including elephant tusks, tiger bones and pangolin scales—found inside a hollowed-out tree in a train car at the Royal Railway Phnom Penh dry port on Saturday. (Fresh News)

The goods were discovered at the Royal Railway Phnom Penh dry port concealed inside the bark of three logs by a wax substance, making them weigh a total of about 2 tons, said Un Vannarith, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Forestry Administration cantonment.

Having melted away wax accounting for about a fifth of one log by Sunday afternoon, he said, officials had so far discovered between 10 and 20 assorted animal parts.

“We have found carcasses stuffed inside the logs that were imported from Africa,” he said. “They drilled into the logs like a coffin and then they put ivory, pangolin skin, elephant tails and tiger bones inside.”

Mr. Vannarith said customs officials at the dry port had received word that day of potential animal smuggling and invited his administration to join in investigating further. About 30 officials—from the customs department, Forestry Administration, U.S. Embassy and NGO Wildlife Alliance—took part in the operation.

“It was done secretly and if we hadn’t had a tip-off, we wouldn’t have been able to catch it,” Mr. Vannarith said, adding that while the quantity of each item had not yet been determined, the haul was large.

U.S. Embassy deputy spokesman David Josar confirmed on Sunday that the crackdown was “partially the result of information” from U.S. law enforcement.

Royal Railway CEO John Guiry said the haul had likely been discovered within three to four days of arriving in the country, as it had just been transported to the capital from Sihanoukville and had undergone scanning when officials decided to open the train car to carry out a more thorough inspection.

Mr. Guiry said the intended recipient was unknown, as the cart was “still in transit; it hadn’t been accepted by anyone.” He referred further questions to customs officials.

Kdov Noch, chief of the Finance Ministry’s dry port customs and excise branch, declined to provide details amid ongoing investigations.

Nuon Chanrith, deputy director-general of the ministry’s general department of customs and excise, said he had not received detailed information on the raid, but believed the most likely destination was China, which has a massive black market for rare and endangered animals.

In the past, he said, ivory has “crossed from Cambodia to Vietnam and continued on to China.” He declined to comment further.

In August, over 600 kg of ivory shipped from Africa that had been sitting in a Sihanoukville port for more than two years was discovered hidden amid corn grains after officials grew tired of waiting for the shipment to be claimed. The stash is being held by authorities, but its fate remains undetermined.

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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