On October 16th, authorities in Hong Kong seized a massive inbound shipment of ivory, working on a tip from Guangdong officials in China. Two separate cargo containers, one arriving from Tanzania and the other from Kenya, were found to contain a combined total of 8,000-plus pounds of tusks and ivory ornaments, valued at approximately $3.4 million. The seizure was one of the largest in history, and the largest ever in Hong Kong. 7 people, including one resident of Hong Kong, have been arrested in connection with the incident.
As demand for ivory has spiked in recent years in China and other affluent Southeast Asian countries, Hong Kong has become a prominent transit point along the illegal ivory smuggling route.
Today it was reported that Paul Sarakikya, Wildlife Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in Tanzania, has rejected the notion that any of the ivory originated in his country. He instead suggested that the Dar Es Salaam port, from which the container was shipped, was simply used as a transit point for smugglers from another African country. Though Sarakikya admitted that Tanzania needs to step up its screening process to prevent such incidents in the future, he stated: “Tanzania has succeeded in curbing elephant and other wildlife poaching to a great extent, it may be occurring as isolated cases, but such large consignment of ivories could not have been collected from the country,” said Mr Sarakikya.
The seizure occurs on the heels of Tanzania’s request to CITES to sell off a government-held ivory stockpile of more than 100,000kg, a move widely condemned by conservationists who worry that such a move would fuel the illegal market.