Massive ivory seizure signals rebound of illegal trade

Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Taipei, Taiwan, Province of China
Taiwan custom officers seized more than two metric tons (4,000 lbs) of illegal elephant ivory yesterday, valued at more than US$3 million. The news signals a rebound of the underground ivory trade, raising concern with conservation organizations including IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org).
The ivory was found in two shipments traveling from Tanzania in East Africa to Manila, Philippines and included 350 African elephant tusks – representing at least 175 dead elephants. Officials believe this could be the largest illegal ivory seizure made in Taiwan province of China since 2000 when 332 tusks were discovered. This seizure also comes on the heels of the May 2006 discovery of 3.9 metric tons (7,800 lbs) of elephant ivory in Hong Kong, Province of China – representing at least 300 dead elephants.
 
IFAW today applauded the efforts of Taiwan, China’s customs officials in discovering the elephant ivory, but said the haul may represent only a small percentage of ivory trafficked to feed the growing underground ivory trade.
 
“The discovery of this massive ivory haul signals a dangerous trend that threatens the world’s dwindling elephant populations,” said IFAW Director of Wildlife and Habitat Protection Dr. Joth Singh. “It is tragic – more than 1,200 elephants would have been killed to produce the ivory we have seen seized over the last few years – and this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that many more illegal ivory shipments are slipping by.”
 
Media reports cite customs officers revealing that the raw tusks still had traces of blood on them, and that the difference in sizes indicated the ivory came from both young and old elephants – which signals that whole elephant family groups may have been killed.
 
Though the ivory trade was banned in 1989, underground trafficking of ivory has continued. Incidences of poaching and ivory seizures have increased noticeably since 2002, when the U.N. Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) proposed to reopen the international ivory trade with a one-off sale of 60 metric tons of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. 
 
IFAW believes that any legal sale in ivory creates a smokescreen for illegal trade, and therefore an increase in poaching. IFAW is calling for CITES to revoke the stockpile sale decision and to maintain a total ban on the trade of ivory. To learn more, visit: www.ifaw.org today.

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