Zurich targeted as hub to smuggle ivory

2015-08-04 19:56

Vienna - Elephant tusks weighing 262kg were seized at Zurich Airport before they could be shipped to China, the world's largest ivory market, Swiss customs officials said on Tuesday.

At least 40 elephants were killed to acquire the tusks, which have an estimated black-market value of 400 000 Swiss francs ($414 000).

The contraband ivory was found in early July stored in several suitcases that three Chinese couriers had brought from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Zurich, according to the customs officials.

The men were apprehended as they were about to board a plane to Beijing.

Besides this record ivory find at Zurich Airport, customs officials have detected smaller shipments hidden in cosmetic cream jars in past weeks.

"There is apparently an effort to open a new ivory trade route via Zurich at the moment," said Heinz Widmer, the customs chief at the airport.

Ivory trade is banned under the Washington Convention, which aims to protect endangered animals and plants.

While Dar es Salaam is known as a major hub for the ivory trade, China is the biggest market, according to conservation groups.

Poaching of rhino and elephants in African countries has reached critical levels in recent years, leading to the possibility of extinction.

An estimated 30 000 elephants are killed for their ivory each year, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The three Chinese suspects were initially detained, but went free after each posted bail of almost $103 000.

They face Swiss fines of up to $41 000 each, but Widmer said the men would likely face more severe punishments in China.

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