ZURICH: Customs officials at Zurich airport have seized 262kg (578lb) of ivory that three 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 6 July and packed in eight suitcases, Switzerland’s customs authority said on Tuesday. It put the estimated value on the illegal market at about 400,000 Swiss francs (£265,000).
The elephant tusks had been sawn 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 estimated that the pieces came from 40 to 50 elephants.
Demand from China’s rising middle class has been fuelling elephant poaching in Africa and illegal trade in ivory, which is turned into jewellery 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 1kg of lion fangs and claws, or 21 fangs and 35 claws. They could be used as jewellery or talismans, or as a symbol for strength in Chinese traditional medicine, Widmer said.
The ivory haul, while sizeable, is below the 500kg (1,100lb) threshold considered to be a large seizure that indicates the likely involvement of organised crime, according to Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring organisation.
The group said the frequency of large seizures had 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 is unclear how and when that ban might take effect.