Today’s seizure of a reported 1,120 ivory tusks in Hong Kong brings to over three tons the amount of illegal elephant ivory, known to have been seized by Chinese authorities since January.
This morning’s seizure was the second in one month in Hong Kong, after customs officials confiscated more than two tonnes of ivory in July – their largest seizure of ivory since 2010.
“This year is shaping up badly for elephants,” said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW’s Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme (www.ifaw.org). “We’ve seen a steady stream of large scale ivory seizures since January. What is concerning is that the two seizures made in Hong Kong in the past four weeks, have bypassed the traditional departure points in Eastern Africa and have arrived from West Africa – two tonnes shipped from Togo last month, and today’s hidden in a shipping container falsely identified as carrying wood from Nigeria.
“There’s no question that traffickers are becoming more devious in their attempts to confound authorities by developing new routes to ship contraband.”
Thirteen rhino horns and five leopard skins were also found in this morning’s consignment. In July officials of the Czech Republic made the European Union’s biggest ever seizure of rhino horn when they confiscated 24 White rhino horns and arrested 16 suspects in connection with wildlife trafficking.
“Kudos to the Hong Kong authorities for their determination to put an end to ivory trafficking – their work to interrupt the illegal trade in elephant ivory is very encouraging, but the fact that so much ivory is being intercepted is an indication of how far out of control elephant poaching has become,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as “white gold”. Limited availability of legal ivory in China purchased form the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephant to meet market needs.
Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated US$19- billion per year, and poaching and worldwide insecurity is connected. Often, the proceeds are used to fund and arm rebel and militia groups who are willing to slaughter imperiled species and kill thousands of people to obtain elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and other wildlife parts.
“The best chance we have to stop illegal wildlife trade is a real commitment by the international community to take action,” said Alie.
As part of a worldwide capacity building initiative IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. The organization recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Interpol, the first ever signed by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme with an NGO. IFAW and Interpol have collaborated on numerous projects since 2005 including Interpol’s largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.