Fishy bust nets world’s biggest haul of elephant ivory

2017-07-07 09:17
Part of the massive 7.2 ton haul of elephant ivory seized in Hong Kong. (Supplied: Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

Part of the massive 7.2 ton haul of elephant ivory seized in Hong Kong. (Supplied: Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

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Hong Kong – This could be the world’s largest and fishiest seizure of ivory ever made.

The Hong Kong government announced on Thursday that customs officers raided a shipping container packed with frozen fish and discovered 7.2 tons of elephant ivory stashed beneath.

Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, said the latest Hong Kong harbour seizure was likely to exceed the previous record seizure of 7.1 tons of ivory that was made in Singapore 15 years ago.

The container arrived in Hong Kong on a Malaysian vessel earlier this week, though it remained unclear where the tusks were smuggled from originally, or what the total number of elephants that were killed to make up the shipment was.

However, Traffic said the massive seizure underlined both Malaysia and Hong Kong’s roles as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory.

"Hong Kong customs are to be warmly congratulated on this important seizure, but it is vital for a full and thorough investigation to take place in the aftermath to find out who was orchestrating this massive movement of contraband," said Dr Yannick Kuehl, Traffic’s regional director for East Asia.

"No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location, coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime, are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port – the case for increasing penalties has never been stronger."

Indicative of organised crime

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation on wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years – a time scale that some groups feel is out of step with neighbouring mainland China, which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017.

Ivory from part of the massive 7.2 ton haul of elephant ivory seized in Hong Kong. (Supplied: Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

Traffic’s UK-based communications officer Marcus Cornthwaite said any ivory seizures of 500kg or more are considered indicative of the involvement of organised crime and should be forensically examined.

"Once the weight is confirmed, the haul could become the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database, narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002."

The ETIS database is managed by Traffic on behalf of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

According to a media release on the Hong Kong government website, three people were arrested from a local trading company.

The statement said the suspects could face fines of up to HK$5m (about R8.6m) or two years in jail.

Read more on:    hong kong  |  poaching  |  crime

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