Hong Kong: Record Seizure of Illegal Ivory

In one of the largest seizures in history, Hong Kong customs authorities intercepted more than four tons of illegal ivory smuggled from Africa, the city's Customs and Excise Department announced Saturday. 

Two containers arrived from Tanzania and Kenya and purported to carry "plastic scrap" and roscoco beans. Instead, they held 1,209 elephant tusks and another 1.4 kilograms of ivory ornaments, at an estimated value of about US $3.5 million. The cargo represented the equivalent of 600 dead elephants, according to an IHT report Monday.

Ivory considered a conflict resource, and is being used more and more to finance conflicts across Africa, the New York Times reported last month. "Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter," that article said, "with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized." Conservation groups say poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants die a year.

Meanwhile, macroeconomics in Asia have helped spur the ivory trade. Increased wealth there has brought increased demand for the high-end goods produced in the wildlife trade.

The recent seizures in China were facilitated by a partnership between Hong Kong and Guangdong province. According to a press release, smuggling carries a maximum punishment of a US $640,000 fine and seven years in prison.. Seven people have been arrested in connection with this operation, according to local media reports.