Swiss customs and security authorities have intercepted a large haul of elephant tusks on transit to China with three Chinese citizens on
transit at Zurich International Airport.
A report from Geneva said Tuesday that the customs officials at Zurich
airport had seized 262 kilograms (578 pounds) of ivory that 3
Chinese men had dispatched from Tanzania, contraband that may have
come from up to 50 elephants.
The ivory was found during a security check on July 6 and packed in
8 suitcases, Switzerland’s customs authority said. It put the
estimated black market value at about 400,000 francs ($413,000).
The elephant tusks had been sawed into 172 pieces to fit into the
luggage, which was being transported from Tanzania’s capital, 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.
Demand from China’s rising middle class has been fueling elephant
poaching in Africa and illegal trade in ivory, which is turned into
jewelry and other decorative items.
The Chinese men were temporarily detained in Zurich and questioned,
Widmer said. They could face large fines for violating customs and
animal protection rules.
The suitcases also contained 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of lion fangs and
claws — 21 fangs and 35 claws. They could be used as jewelry or
talismans, or as a symbol for strength in Chinese traditional
medicine, Widmer said.
The ivory haul, while sizable, is below the 500-kilogram (1,100-pound)
threshold considered to be a large-scale seizure that indicates the
likely involvement of organized crime, according to TRAFFIC, a
wildlife trade monitoring organization.
The group, which said that it doesn’t speculate on the black-market
value of ivory as a matter of policy, said the frequency of
large-scale seizures has increased greatly since 2000, with 18 such
hauls reported in 2013.
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.
Tanzania’s Chief of the International Police (Interpol), Mr. Gustav
Babile, said his office was in contact with Swiss authorities to assess the report of the bloody ivory seizure.
Director of Wildlife in Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and
Tourism, Mr. Herman Keraryo, was quoted as saying the government of
Tanzania was working with Zurich for more details.