695 Elephant tusks seized in Malaysia add to staggering recent toll

Tuesday, 6 September, 2011
Brussels, Belgium
Malaysian authorities seized 695 elephant tusks in Port Klang, just east of Kuala Lumpur, on Friday – the fifth major seizure involving Malaysia in recent months.

The seizure weighs about 2,000 kgs and was hidden inside containers marked as crushed plastic.

Friday’s ivory confiscations were the fourth seizure in 14 days – during which time a staggering 3,194 elephant ivory tusks were taken into custody. The flurry of seizures of illegal ivory began on August 19th.

Two of the four shipments originated in Tanzanian port of Dar-Es Salaam which was highlighted in a recent report by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) as one of ‘the most prominent ports of exit for ivory moving to Asian markets and should be a focus for law enforcement action and support.’

The other two shipments arrived in Malaysia via the United Arab Emirates and Singapore but likely originated in Tanzania, Kenya or Mozambique based on the ETIS report. More information on recent seizures can be found in the notes below.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) salute the achievement of the Malaysian authorities but warn that the flow of ivory will continue as long as prices for ivory in China remain above those seen during the elephant poaching crises of the 70s and 80s.

“Looking at the thousands of elephant tusks seized in the last couple of weeks we must immediately ask ourselves how many tusks are slipping through the net?” said Kelvin Alie, IFAW’s Program Director for Wildlife Trade. “It seems clear that Malaysia has become a major transit point in the ivory trade but there are numerous other transit points such as Singapore or Vietnam that link the African range states being devastated by poaching with the seemingly insatiable demand of China. In the end we must have a complete ban on international ivory to try and stop the losses amongst our elephant populations.”

According to media reports between 50,000 to 100,000 containers enter Malaysia’s ports every month and only those which are singled out via intelligence or tip-offs are inspected. International criminal syndicates, who often smuggle drugs, arms and other illegal goods, are said to be heavily involved in the trafficking of ivory and benefit from a lack of international coordination.

“IFAW has funded INTERPOL’s Ecomessage award to encourage international cooperation in tackling this nefarious and multimillion euro business that is devastating our ecosystem,” said Alie.

The INTERPOL Ecomessage award is presented to the country or countries which have contributed most significantly to the international exchange of intelligence relating to environmental criminals. Botswana and Poland were recognized in 2010, in particular, for the value of their information and their consistency in submitting ecomessages


Counting, measuring, recording and developing a comprehensive record of elephant poaching is nearly impossible. The quantities and distances involved render it a Herculean task. Because of this, we are left with anecdotal evidence; stories and accounts which, once combined, can give us great insight into what is happening in the global illegal ivory trade and measure the degree of threat faced by elephants.

It is clear that the threat to elephants is grave. According to ETIS there has been, “a steadily increasing trend in levels of illicit ivory trade in 2004 onwards, with an exceptionally sharp upsurge in 2009….seizures of ivory reached record levels in 2009 and that these levels were largely sustained in 2010.”

Already, 2011 is already shaping up to be a record year for ivory seizures, with at least 4,759 elephant tusks confiscated in the following known major seizures:

On April 1st  Thai officials discovered 247 tusks hidden in a shipment from Kenya, although it is not clear where the ivory originated.

Two weeks later Vietnamese officials seized 122 elephant tusks and a day after that Chinese officials uncovered 707 elephant tusks during a routine inspection.

In early May Kenyan authorities uncovered 84 elephant tusks at Nairobi airport.

In June a further 22 elephants were poached in the Congo Basin bringing the known total there to at least 77 elephants killed so far in 2011.

On July 8th Malaysian officials seized 405 elephant tusks.

On July 26th US Fish and Wildlife Officers made their biggest-ever bust in Philadelphia of almost 1,000 kg of ivory, representing hundreds of tusks.

An August 12th report highlighted a 50 per cent increase between 2004 and 2011 in the number of ivory items on sale in ivory factories and retail outlets in Guangzhou, China most of which lacked any proper identification. Guangzhou is the largest city in southern China and an important ivory centre.

A week after that report a China-bound shipment from Tanzania was seized in Malaysia with 664 elephant tusks.

1041 elephant tusks bound for Malaysia were seized in Zanzibar on August 23rd.

The following week officials in Hong Kong SAR of China seized 794 African elephant tusks on a shipment from Malaysia. That same week officials in Malaysia seized 695 elephant tusks that had come from Tanzania and were bound for China.

Individually these seizures illustrate a thriving illegal trade in ivory. Collectively they represent a threat to the very survival of elephants in parts of Africa and Asia.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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