IFAW: Sri Lanka seizes 1.5 tonnes of elephant tusks – ivory traffickers developing new trade routes?

The seizure of 1.5 tonnes of elephant tusks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday, was the single biggest ever ivory haul in the island state, fuelling concerns over the increasing boldness of illegal ivory traders in developing new routes for their contraband.

“This is a greedy, vicious trade that is hell bent on getting its booty to the markets that demand it,” said Jason Bell, Director of the Elephant Programme at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org). “The boldness of these thugs in attempting to side-step authorities by developing a complex web of delivery networks is quite breathtaking.”

Sri Lankan authorities yesterday said they had seized some 350 elephant tusks in Colombo port. The tusks had been described as plastic waste and were hidden among logs of wood packed in shipping containers.

The containers had arrived from Kenya, en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. No arrests have yet been made.

So far 2012 has proven a bloody one for elephants. Earlier this year about 650 free roaming elephants were killed by poachers in northern Cameroon, near the border with Chad.

“The ivory is smuggled into markets in Europe and Asia, most often China. East African ports are favoured points of departure and the ivory then often transits through South East Asia en route to its destination,” said Bell. “The size of this haul and the choice of Sri Lanka, which is an apparently new route, raise concerns.”

Bell said IFAW saluted the Sri Lankan authorities for intercepting the haul but warned that ivory trafficking would continue to enrich international criminal syndicates and devastate biodiversity unless arrests, convictions and daunting penalties are applied.

“For now ivory trafficking remains a low risk, high reward activity for international criminal syndicates. Each piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant, and until law enforcement authorities are resourced, equipped and trained to hit back hard at the illegal ivory trade, the terrible onslaught against elephants will continue,” he said.

IFAW is working with INTERPOL on Project WISDOM in 2012 to tackle the horror of ivory trafficking. INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme will coordinate anti-ivory enforcement operations in 18 African countries, hopefully culminating in arrests, convictions and a serious blow to the cruelest threat to elephants.

“The operations with INTERPOL we are funding are vital for saving elephants now, but ultimately we must stamp out demand for ivory in China, and elsewhere as well. It is the only way to stop the slaughter,” Bell concluded.


For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on 0207 587 6708, mobile 07917 507717 or email csterling@ifaw.org

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.