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$400,000 of ivory seized

August 4, 2015

Swiss customs officials seized ivory worth more than $400,000 on the black market as it traveled to China. The ivory, thought to have come from up to 50 elephants, was discovered with lion teeth and claws.

Ivory worth more than $400,000 on the black market was seized at Zurich Airport.
Image: Reuters/R. Sprich

A large haul of ivory worth more than $400,000 on the black market has been seized at a Swiss airport on its way from Tanzania to China, it emerged.

Customs officials at Zurich airport seized 262 kilograms (578 pounds) of ivory that had been chopped up and stashed in eight suitcases, along with around a kilo of lion teeth and claws, Swiss authorities said Tuesday.

The suitcases, registered to three Chinese citizens, were intercepted at Zurich airport on July 6 during a routine control of tourists arriving from Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam, it was announced.

The ivory was found during a security check on July 6, with the elephant tusks sawed into 172 pieces to fit into the luggage which was being transported from Dar es Salaam to Beijing via Zurich.

The head of the customs operation at the airport, Heinz Widmer, said officials estimate that the pieces came from 40 to 50 elephants, with a black market value of around $413,500.

Large-scale ivory seizures increasing

Demand from China's rising middle class has been fueling elephant poaching in Africa and illegal trade in ivory, which is then turned into jewelry and other decorative items.

The whereabouts of the Chinese men is unclear, but Swiss officials said they could face large fines for violating customs and animal protection rules.

The ivory haul, while large, is below the 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) threshold considered to be a large-scale seizure that indicates the likely involvement of organized crime, said TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization.

The group, which said that it doesn't comment on the black-market value of ivory as a matter of policy, said the frequency of large-scale seizures has increased significantly since 2000, with 18 such hauls reported in 2013.

The United Nations last week voted to work harder to combat the poaching of endangered species, and expressed concern over what it described as a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and high levels of elephants being killed in Africa.

There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said the NGO Elephants Without Borders.

In May, a senior Chinese official made an unexpected pledge to halt the ivory trade inside the country, though it isn't clear how and when that ban might take effect.

mh/jil (AFP, AP)