One of Hong Kong's Largest Ever Seizures Implicates Tanzania
Details regarding one of the world’s largest ever seizures of ivory are gradually coming to light.
Following a tip-off, on 16th October a shipping container from Tanzania was seized by Hong Kong customs officials who found 972 tusks hidden amongst plastic waste. A day later at the same location another 237 tusks were found, the shipment disguised and labelled as containing beans, this time in a container from Kenya. On leaving their respective countries, the containers had been sent on elaborate journeys involving Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and China before arriving in Hong Kong, in an attempt to throw customs agents off the scent. Together, these seizures weighed an astounding 3.8 tonnes, representing the death of at least 600 elephants.
In the wake of the seizure, local authorities were quick to claim this as a rare occurrence despite Hong Kong’s known role as a hub in the illegal ivory trade, with a report earlier this year highlighting multiple large seizures and 5.6 tonnes of ivory impounded between 2009 and 2011.
Similarly, media reports indicate that Tanzania’s government is seeking to distance itself from responsibility for the illegal trade, which is perhaps unsurprising: Tanzania is seeking approval to legally sell over 101 tonnes of stockpiled ivory at the next CITES Conference of the Parties in March 2012.
This has angered and worried many. A further injection of legal ivory into the market would increase demand in consumer countries, already awash with both legal and illegal ivory. Tanzania also continues to be roundly criticised for not taking the necessary steps to combat elephant poaching. The 2012 report mentioned above also notes the seizure of 19.8 tonnes of ivory originating in or exported from Tanzania between 2009 and 2011, and in the wake of Tanzania’s previous attempt to sell ivory, a 2010 report highlighted the loss to poaching of almost a quarter of Tanzania’s elephant population between 2006 and 2009. Since then, there have been no significant signs that conditions within the country have changed – in fact, an INTERPOL official has been quoted as suggesting that the ivory in last week’s seizure came from the same area in Tanzania noted as having the country’s highest rate of poaching in the 2010 report.
As highlighted above, seizures such as this are vital – they not only provide a snapshot of illegal trade but also represent an opportunity for law enforcement authorities to collect and share information which can help to disrupt the complex criminal networks that characterise such trade. Bloody Ivory hopes that Tanzania's proposal is rejected and that these massive seizures ultimately lead to a significant erosion of organised ivory crime and a better chance at survival for beleaguered elephants.
Stay tuned to Bloody Ivory for more news on the next CITES Conference of the Parties.