Officials with the Ports and Maritime Command were tipped off about a possible shipment of illegal ivory headed to Hong Kong from Malaysia on Tuesday.
Upon close inspection, customs officials found 794 pieces of African ivory tusks hidden under a layer of stones. The collection weighed approximately two tons, and was concealed inside a container marked “non-ferrous products for factory use.” The tusks were worth about $13 million and believed to have been poached from elephants.
“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 & Rhino Programme Co-ordinator.
Globally, illicit trade in ivory has been escalating since 2004 and Chinese consumption is considered to be the leading driver behind Africa’s elephant poaching crisis.
A 66-year-old man was arrested, while a follow-up investigation continues. Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing unmanifested cargoes is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years.
The seizure occurred only days after the CITES Standing Committee recommended a review of China’s internal ivory trade protocol to determine whether there are possibilities for illicitly sourced ivory to leak into the legal ivory trade system.
A total of 164 ivory seizures have occurred in Hong Kong during over the past 23 years, collectively representing over 17 tonnes of elephant ivory.