Two Tons of Smuggled Elephant Ivory Seized in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan, July 5, 2006 (ENS) - Customs officers at Taiwan's Kaohsiung Harbor have seized more than two metric tons of illegal elephant ivory, valued at more than US$3.1 million.

The ivory was found Tuesday in two shipments traveling to Manila, Philippines from the East African country of Tanzania.

The boxes contained 350 African elephant tusks, representing an estimated 175 dead elephants.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ko Shih-hsien, an official with the Kao-hsiung Customs Office, told reporters, "The two containers entered Kaohsiung Harbor on June 11 and June 15, respectively, from Tanzania. They were to be transported to Manila on a smaller ship later this month."

The ivory was found in 18 wooden boxes Ko said were marked as containing sisal fiber. Sisal is produced in Tanzania and used to make ropes and rugs.

Ko said that customs officials will work with international conservation organizations to investigate ivory smuggling through Taiwan.

Wu Yu-chi with the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC East Asia-Taipei told a press conference Wednesday that bloodstains on the ivory indicates that the tusks are probably from elephants that were recently killed.


African bull elephants like this one grow tusks that are in demand for jewelry and art objects. (Photo courtesy WWF-UK)
This seizure at Kaohsiung Harbor follows the discovery in May of 3.9 metric tons of elephant ivory in Hong Kong, representing an estimated 300 dead elephants.

The last time Taiwan officials uncovered a cache of smuggled ivory was in May 2000, when Kaohsiung Harbor officials intercepted 332 tusks, weighing 2.1 metric tons.

Legal trade in elephant ivory was banned in 1989 by the UN Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but underground trafficking of ivory has continued.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said the seizure "signals a rebound of the underground ivory trade."

"The discovery of this massive ivory haul signals a dangerous trend that threatens the world's dwindling elephant populations," said IFAW Director of Wildlife and Habitat Protection Dr. Joth Singh.

Both large and small tusks were found in the confiscated ivory shipments, indicating that they came from both young and old elephants. Singh said this signals that whole elephant family groups may have been killed.

"It is tragic - more than 1,200 elephants would have been killed to produce the ivory we have seen seized over the last few years - and this is only the tip of the iceberg," said Singh. "It is likely that many more illegal ivory shipments are slipping by."

Singh says incidences of poaching and ivory seizures have increased noticeably since 2002, when the CITES member governments reopened the international ivory trade with a one-off sale of 60 metric tons of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.