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Hong Kong customs seize four tons of smuggled ivory

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Hong Kong customs officers seized almost four tonnes of ivory worth about $3.4 million, hidden in shipments from Kenya and Tanzania, officials said Saturday.

The 1,209 pieces of raw ivory tusk and a small number of ivory ornaments were discovered in two containers marked “plastic scrap” and “roscoco beans”, shipped to Hong Kong earlier this week, a customs official said.

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The smuggled ivory, weighing 3.81 tonnes (8,400 pounds) — Hong Kong’s largest ever seizure — was found hidden among bags of plastic scraps and beans by customs officers acting on a tip-off from counterparts in mainland China.

“The total seizure is worth about HK$26.7 million ($3.4 million),” the Hong Kong customs department said, adding that it will step up efforts with mainland Chinese authorities to combat transnational smuggling activities.

Mainland Chinese authorities arrested seven individuals, including a Hong Kong resident, in relation to the seizure, public broadcaster RTHK said.

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of importing unmanifested cargo into the southern Chinese city — a major shipping hub — faces imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum fine of HK$2 million.

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In addition, those guilty of importing, exporting or possessing an endangered species for commercial purposes face up to two years in jail and a maximum HK$5 million fine, customs officials said.

The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

However, a rise in the illegal trade in ivory has been fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicines and to make ornaments.

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Africa is home to an estimated 472,000 elephants whose survival is threatened by poaching, illegal game hunting and habitat loss.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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