The Lam Dong Prosecutors' Office has ratified criminal charges against three locals suspected of smuggling elephant tusks.
Phan Thi Hoa, 52, director of the Nam Qua Eco-tourism Company in the Central Highlands province's Da Lat Town has been placed under house arrest. Two others were placed in detention for two months Phan Dac Mau Dai, a professional mahout, and Nguyen Ngoc Thuan, both of Duc Trong District.
On April 24, an elephant was found brutally killed in Da Lat. The 38-year-old male elephant was found tied to a tree, and the tendons of its hind legs were slashed. Its tusks and tail hair, usual targets of poachers, were still in place.
The elephant, leased by the Tuyen Lam Lake Tourism Complex, went missing April 23 after it was left to graze on a hillside.
Later, it was found dead a few kilometers from where it had been left.
Hoa said that the elephant was hired from Dak Lak Province seven years ago.
A police source said Hoa had signed a contract to sell the elephant to Dai and Thuan for VND150 million (US$7,281) before it was killed.
On the day the elephant was found dead, Hoa asked local authorities for permission to cremate the animal, including its tusks and tail hair.
However, investigators later found the tusks, weighing 26 kilograms in total and worth around VND500 million ($24,271), at Dai's house.
Conservationists have strictly criticized the practice of breeding elephants in captivity, or taming and forcing the animals to serve tourist sites for financial profit. They have warned that the current approach would see wild elephants in Vietnam become extinct in the next decade.
Vietnam had around 2,000 elephants in the mid-90s but the number has dwindled to between 70 and 100 because of relentless poaching and deforestation, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.