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Earlier this week, Hong Kong customs seized a record-breaking 7.2 tons of elephant tusks, valued at HKD72 million, in the city’s largest ivory bust in 30 years.
The Customs and Excise Department made the discovery on Tuesday during a search of a 40-foot container from Malaysia, which was declared as frozen fish, in the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. Officers who inspected the cargo, however, found the tusks under the fish.
Follow-up investigations led customs to a trading company in Tuen Mun, where they arrested one man — the proprietor of the company — along with two female staffers, aged 42 to 57. Customs official Wan Hing-chuen said in a press conference today that he believed a major smuggling ring was involved, and said there could be more arrests made in relation to the case.
The discovery follows on the heels of a powerful plea on the ivory trade in LegCo last month from Erik Mararv, a park ranger from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mararv detailed an ambush by poachers near an elephant carcass, which claimed the lives of three rangers.
The ranger asked lawmakers not to compensate ivory traders for their unsold stock as it will only encourage the trade, which unsurprisingly didn’t go down well with the city’s ivory sellers.
Any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested (undeclared) cargo is liable to a maximum fine of HKD2 million and imprisonment for seven years, under the Import and Export Ordinance. Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence is liable to a HKD5 million fine and imprisonment for two years.
During his policy address last year, former chief executive CY Leung pledged to completely ban the ivory trade in Hong Kong within five years. The executive committee has already initiated a three-step plan to start the legislation of the ban in the first half of 2017, with plans to raise the penalty for smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species, SCMP reports.