When officials in Hong Kong Customs checked a shipping container declared to contain “frozen fish”, they found 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks hidden beneath the fish.
The container had been shipped from Malaysia, and the tusks are estimated to be worth around $72 million (£56 million).
The weight is yet to be confirmed, but if it is as estimated, it will be the largest ever seizure recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database, which dates back to 1989.
“This huge ivory seizure – possibly the largest ever – is a stark reminder of the scale of the illegal wildlife trade,” said WWF-UK’s Heather Sohl, chief advisor on wildlife.
“Hundreds of elephants will have been killed for these tusks and unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg: a staggering 20,00 African elephants are estimated to be poached each year.”
The ivory tusks were hidden beneath cartons of frozen fish. © Hong Kong Customs
Following the finding, three people – a man and two women – have been arrested in connection with the seizure.
According to guidelines from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), ivory seizures of 500kg or more should be forensically examined and are indicative of the involvement of organised crime.
The 7.2 tonnes narrowly surpasses the 7.138 tonnes of ivory seized in Singapore in 2002, which now becomes the second largest in the ETIES database.
The database contains tens of thousands of records related to elephant-product seizures, and is managed by TRAFFIC (on behalf of Parties to CITES).
Main image: Customs officials in Hong Kong have seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusk. © Hong Kong Customs