July 15, 2009

Kenya seizes $1 million Asia-bound rhino, elephant ivory

Source: Reuters

* Tusks and horns came from southern Africa * Gangs target African wildlife for Asian market By Ben Makori NAIROBI, July 15 (Reuters) - Kenyan wildlife authorities have impounded nearly $1 million worth of elephant tusks and rhino horns smuggled by poachers from southern Africa and bound for illegal ivory markets in Asia. It was one of Africa's biggest ivory hauls. Sniffer dogs found the nearly 300kg of ivory at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport in cargo crates coming from Mozambique on a Kenya Airways flight, the director of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) told reporters late on Tuesday. "The rhino horns are freshly cut and one of them has a bullet wound," Julius Kipng'etich said. "It's a sad moment. Remember all wildlife wherever it is, is a world heritage. So if we lose any, it's a loss to all of us as a human race." Kipng'etich said the animals must have been poached from southern African countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe or South Africa as Mozambique had no rhinos and hardly any elephants. According to the WWF conservation group, the whole continent has about 18,000 rhinos left, while sub-Saharan Africa has 690,000 elephants at most -- where once they were millions. Ivory demand in Asia is stimulating poaching by international criminal rings, wildlife experts say. "In the last year we have witnessed an upsurge in poaching for trophies, especially elephants and rhinos," Kipng'etich said. "In the last year alone Zimbabwe lost 100 rhinos and South Africa 162. This to me is the tip of the iceberg." Kipng'etich said the illegal shipment was bound for Laos, but that China was more likely to be the final destination. "From our own experience of movement of wildlife trophies, definitely this was going to China," he said. Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine where many people believe it can cure arthritis and fever. Elsewhere, ivory is in demand for carving into dagger-handles and other ornaments. Kipng'etich said a kilo of rhino horn was worth $5,000 on the black market, while a kilo of ivory sold for $3,000 a kilo, meaning the haul in Kenya of 280kg of elephant ivory and 18kg of rhino horn worth almost $1 million.(Writing by Alison Bevege; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)


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