Hong Kong customs officers have seized a large shipment of African ivory hidden in a container that arrived by sea from Malaysia.
Hong Kong government officials said Tuesday that officers found 794 pieces of ivory tusks estimated to be worth $1.6 million.
The officers found the tusks, which were hidden by stones, on Monday after deciding to examine the shipment, which the officials said was labeled "nonferrous products for factory use."
The container arrived from Malaysia, but the officials did not say where it originated from. A 66-year-old man was arrested and officials are investigating.
Headed to China?
The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said the shipment appeared destined for mainland China, which the group considers the leading driver of African poaching. Ground-up ivory is often used in traditional medicine in China.
"The authorities in Hong Kong are to be congratulated on this important seizure, but it is now vital to ensure that all leads are followed to track down those responsible along the entire smuggling chain," said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant and rhino program coordinator, in a statement on its website.
The statement said the ivory tusks, which weighed a total of about 2 tons, were from elephants.
Traffic said that since 1989, more than 17 tons of elephant ivory had been seized by authorities in Hong Kong.
The group said illicit trade in ivory had been increasing across the world since 2004, citing a number of examples:
- Last week, more than 1000 ivory tusks were seized in Zanzibar, Tanzania, apparently en route to Malaysia.
- In Hong Kong in December 2009, 186 pieces of ivory from Nigeria were found inside a container shipped from Malaysia labeled as containing "White Wood."
- In 2003, Hong Kong authorities seized 275 tusks, weighing about 2 tons, transiting from Malaysia after being illegally exported from Tanzania.
Milliken said the latest seizure showed the importance of Malaysia as an intermediary country in the "illicit flow of African ivory to Asia."
"It's time for Malaysia to get tough on international ivory smugglers, who are tarnishing the country's reputation," he said in the statement.