Hong Kong and Guangdong Customs confiscate two shipments of illegal elephant tusks, weighing around 3,813 kilogrammes (8,388 pounds), 22 October 2012. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong and Guangdong Customs via mongabay.com

By Jeremy Hance
22 October 2012

(mongabay.com) – Hong Kong authorities have confiscated two massive shipments of elephant tusks, totaling 1,209 tusks, stemming from Kenya and Tanzania. Representing over 600 poached elephants, the shipments are estimated to be worth $3.4 million on the black market. African elephants are being decimated for their tusks in recent years with heavily-armed and well-connected poachers—backed by criminal syndicates—killing off whole herds in some cases.

The shipments represented the largest bust of elephant tusks in Hong Kong history, and highlights the growing threat of the ivory trade to elephant survival.

The bust also comes at an inopportune time for Tanzania, which has applied to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to selloff its stockpile of ivory, worth about $55.5 million. The nation says that proceeds from the sale would be used for anti-poaching efforts, but critics contend that allowing a legal sale of ivory during a poaching crisis sends mixed messages and will further endanger wild elephant populations.

The African elephant is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. However, recent research shows that there are two very distinct elephant species in Africa: the more commonly known, savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), and the lesser-known forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). Forest elephant populations have been especially hard hit by poaching.

Authorities confiscate 600 dead elephants' worth of ivory in Hong Kong

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