Skip to main content

Hong Kong seizes Nigerian container in biggest ivory bust this year

By Ramy Inocencio, for CNN
August 8, 2013 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
Hong Kong customs officials seized 1,120 ivory tusks in a container shipped from Nigeria on August 6, 2013. Hong Kong customs officials seized 1,120 ivory tusks in a container shipped from Nigeria on August 6, 2013.
HIDE CAPTION
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
Hong Kong's seizures of illegal ivory
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong customs seized more than 1100 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns, five leopard pelts
  • Illegal haul, found in container shipped from Nigeria, estimated at $5.3 million
  • Black market price for ivory is almost $3,000 per kilogram
  • Economic growth in Asia, demand from China pushing appetite for ivory

Hong Kong (CNN) -- In one of the biggest busts of its kind in Hong Kong, customs authorities this week seized more than 1,100 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five leopard pelts. The haul, found in a container shipped from Nigeria, is valued at more than $5.3 million.

On August 6, Hong Kong customs officials -- tipped off by their mainland Chinese counterparts -- detained "two suspicious containers" for inspection, according to a Hong Kong government press release. Authorities found the animal products "inside 21 sealed wooden crates at the rear of one of the containers."

Authorities have not made any arrests in this case so far.

Following this week's discovery, Hong Kong customs have now confiscated some eight tons of elephant ivory -- in at least four separate hauls -- within the past year. With a black market price of almost $3,000 a kilogram, its total worth could easily surpass the $20 million mark.

China's craze kills Africa's elephants
Ivory demand fuels elephant poaching
Undercover look at illegal ivory traders

Customs officials in July opened a container originating from Togo to find 1,148 tusks valued at $2.2 million.

On April 30, airport customs officers zeroed in on a package labelled as "spare parts" originating from Burundi, transiting through Hong Kong and with Singapore as its final destination. Authorities discovered 113 ivory tusks valued at nearly $400,000.

In November 2012, Hong Kong authorities seized $1.4 million worth of smuggled ivory in a container from Tanzania. The 569 tusks were found buried under hundreds of bags of sunflower seeds.

And in a bust just one month earlier, customs officers detained two containers from Tanzania and Kenya that claimed to be ferrying scrap plastic. More than four tons of ivory -- some 1,200 ivory tusks -- were found. The haul, valued at $3.4 million, made for one of the biggest seizures of ivory tusk in the history of the Chinese territory.

Conservationists estimate that 25,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011. Poaching levels have not been that high for more than 10 years. In many parts of the continent, murder rates now exceed population growth, putting elephants at risk of extinction.

The reason is simple, said Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"It's the economic growth in Asia. And what's interesting is a lot of these economies are becoming more modern, more sophisticated, more advanced, like China, Vietnam, other parts of Asia, but they still adhere to traditional beliefs. And in many parts of Asia, ivory and rhino horn powder are valued for ceremonial purposes, for religious purposes, cultural purposes."

China is the world's number one market for ivory products, according to animal welfare groups. Hong Kong, the world's third largest port, serves as an easy entry point into and out of mainland China.

As China's citizens have grown in wealth, their demand for ivory -- often referred to as "white gold" in the country -- has also rocketed.

In fact, the fate of many of Africa's elephants lie in a small number of Chinese hands, said National Geographic's Bryan Christy to CNN's Amanpour.

"We have 35 registered carving factories in China. That's all -- 135 registered retail shops. Only 300 or 400 registered known carvers. It's a very small number of people imposing an incredible cost on Africa."

Since 2009, the number of large-scale seizures of ivory headed for Asia -- categorized as more than 800 kilograms per shipment -- has more than doubled according to a March 2013 report by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The number of incidents hit a record in 2011.

Under Hong Kong law, a person found guilty of trading endangered species for commercial purposes is liable to a maximum fine of $5 million and imprisonment for two years.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT