Largest Ever Ivory Seizure

Three days ago suspicious customs agents in Hong Kong opened a 40 foot shipping container, to find what is being hailed as the largest ever recorded ivory seizure.

An estimated 7.2 tonnes of ivory, representing the death of hundreds of elephants, were found in nylon bags below frozen fish cartons in a shipment arriving from Malaysia. Both Hong Kong and Malaysia are major hubs in the illegal ivory trade.

In recent years, political will to wipe out wildlife trafficking has been building momentum, and key consumer markets of ivory – USA, China and the EU - have all made various commitments. China is on track to ban its domestic trade by the end of 2017, and Hong Kong, a key transit destination for ivory bound for China, will hopefully do so earlier than the 2021 date announced late last year.  But this latest seizure leaves no room for doubt that the trade in illegal ivory is alive and well.

The customs officials involved deserve credit, but in and of itself, the seizure is no result. The elephants whose teeth have been found are dead. The criminal network co-ordinating the shipment will likely pass the seizure off as a cost of doing ‘business’ and continue with their grisly activities. However, the arrest of three people connected to a trading company in Hong Kong implicated in the seizure presents an opportunity for law enforcement authorities to collect vital information which may help compromise the individuals co-ordinating this trade. These ‘masterminds’ hold positions of great power and trust within the transnational networks involved in these heinous crimes, and their arrest and prosecution would significantly disrupt trafficking.

Sadly, such outcomes are a rarity, but one hopes that whatever opportunities this week’s seizure offers are not lost, for the sake of the many thousands more elephants who will die unless the scourge of ivory trafficking is brought to an end.

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