(HONG KONG / WILDAID) - Customs officials in Hong Kong have seized about 7,200 kilograms of ivory, or nearly 16,000 pounds, from a shipping container that originated in Malaysia. The haul is the largest ever intercepted by any law enforcement authority worldwide since records began in 1989.
Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the crime, according to a customs press release. If convicted of multiple smuggling offenses, the perpetrators face up to nine years in prison and fines of HK$7 million (US$900,000) each.
The ivory seized represents 700 to 1,000 dead elephants, and includes many small tusks from calves. The size, shape and dark color of the tusks indicate that they likely came from imperiled Central African forest elephants.
Across Africa, up to 33,000 elephants are killed by poachers each year. Hong Kong is in the process of legislating a ban on ivory trade, although traders and some lawmakers, such as Ben Chan Han-pan, oppose closing the market.
"This incident is further evidence that Hong Kong's legal ivory market is being used to launder tusks from elephants slaughtered in Africa," said WildAid Hong Kong Campaigner Alex Hofford.
"To stop criminal syndicates from driving elephants to extinction, Hong Kong must ban the trade immediately, increase penalties for wildlife crime, and end the demand for ivory," Hofford said.
Mainland China, once the world's largest ivory market, has closed a third of its carving factories and shops. The rest will be closed by the end of 2017.
Japan continues to allow legal domestic ivory trade, which provides a mechanism for poached ivory to reach consumers. WildAid is calling on Japan to ban all ivory trade in the country.