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A record-smashing 3,81 tonnes of illegal ivory was seized in Hong Kong on Saturday – the largest ever in China and the largest worldwide in two years.

The sheer size of the haul confirms that the past 24 months have been among the deadliest for elephants in recent time. Hong Kong officials announced yesterday they had intercepted almost four tonnes of ivory in containers aboard ships from Tanzania and Kenya. The consignments were marked ‘plastic scrap’ and ‘rose coco’ (borlotti) beans.

Hong Kong ivory siezure, IFAW
The six tonnes of ivory seized in Singapore in 2004 and returned to Kenya, pales by comparison with the 24.3 tonnes confiscated in Hong Kong last Saturday. © IFAW/ D. Willetts

‘This latest confiscation confirms the last 24 months have been among the most deadly ever for elephants. In 2011 authorities seized more than 24,3 tonnes of illegal ivory – the biggest amount in 23 years – and, in the first quarter of 2012, poachers in Cameroon slaughtered as many as 650 elephants for their ivory. It is clear that elephants are under more threat today, than they have been in decades,’ said Jason Bell, IFAW’s Elephant Programme Director.

The two shipments intercepted in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour contained a total of 1,209 elephant tusks and ivory fragments, and had travelled separate and unusual shipping routes, probably in an attempt to avoid detection.

Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and coveted as “white gold”. Limited availability of legal ivory China purchased from the stockpile sale from southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs. IFAW says an estimated 25,000-50,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011.

Hong Kong Ivory siezure, IFAW, elephants
© Sean Messham

‘Over 11,000 pieces of elephant ivory were put on the auction block in 2011 alone, which more than doubled the amount from just a year ago,’ said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW. ‘According to a collectibles industry newsletter in China, recorded ivory sales reached US$94 million last year, which is a 170 per cent increase over the previous year.

IFAW said Chinese authorities were to be applauded for the success of their interception of the illegal ivory – at least seven alleged members of a smuggling ring had been arrested in mainland China ahead of the alleged bust in Hong Kong.

Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.

NOTE IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.

They also publish the awesome IFAW digimag. Make sure you check out the Elephant edition!

Note: This article is based on a press release from IFAW

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