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African ivory worth $1.4 million seized in Hong Kong

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
November 16, 2012 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
Seized pieces of unpolished tusks are displayed by customs officials in Hong Kong on November 16, 2012.
Seized pieces of unpolished tusks are displayed by customs officials in Hong Kong on November 16, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This is the second large amount of ivory confiscated in Hong Kong in the past month
  • 569 tusks were found under sunflower seeds in a shipping container
  • The container came from Tanzania as was picked out for inspection by officials

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Hong Kong authorities said Friday that they had confiscated $1.4 million worth of ivory that arrived smuggled in a shipping container from Africa, the second large seizure of tusks at the busy port in the past month.

Customs officials discovered the 1,330 kilograms (about 2,900 pounds) of illegal ivory Thursday in a container from Tanzania that was marked as carrying sunflower seeds, authorities said.

The 569 tusks, worth 10.56 million Hong Kong dollars (about $1.4 million U.S.), were in the back of the container, buried under hundreds of bags of the seeds.

The Hong Kong government said customs officials are investigating the case and are still trying to find "the smuggling syndicate members." The container had been picked out for inspection based on "risk assessment," authorities said.

Poaching on the rise in Africa

The seizure follows the roughly $3.4 million worth in ivory found in two shipping containers last month, one of the largest amounts ever seized in Hong Kong.

Those containers arrived from Tanzania and Kenya, according to Hong Kong customs officials. The agency seized 1,209 pieces of ivory tusks and 3 pounds of ivory ornaments from the two containers, discovered over a period of two days.

In that case, Hong Kong customs officials were on alert after a tip-off from officials in Guangdong, China.

Read more: Priest embroiled in ivory smuggling controversy

Seven people, including one Hong Kong resident, were arrested by Chinese officials in connection with the case, authorities said at the time.

Hong Kong is viewed as a transit point for the illegal ivory trade, feeding into increasing demands in China, according to a Time article published last month.

Elephants are being killed in Africa at an alarming rate as international demand soars for ivory. Much of the demand comes from increasingly affluent Asian countries, particularly China and Thailand.

Before this year, the most recent major bust in Hong Kong occurred in 2011, when officials seized a shipment of ivory and rhinoceros horns valued at $2.2 million Hong Kong dollars.

Journalist Paavan Mathema contributed to this report.

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