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Huge Ivory Seizure in Kenya, Two Men Arrested [Update]

  • 04/27/09
  • Paul

On Saturday the 25th, two men were arrested for carrying 703 kg (1,550 lb) of elephant ivory in southern Kenya. The seizure, the biggest in recent times in Kenya, was made possible thanks to the efforts by AWF-supported game scouts.

The two men were traveling by vehicle in Tanzania when they were ambushed by wildlife scouts from the Amboseli-Tsavo Game Scouts Association. The smugglers fled across the Kenyan border, where they were caught and arrested by authorities tipped off by the scouts.

[caption id="attachment_707" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="It's estimated that the ivory came from 50 elephants."]1,550 lb of elephant ivory was seized over the weekend.[/caption]

The arrest was made in the town of Mbirikani, 50 km from the Kenya-Tanzania border. “Initial investigations indicated that the suspects were headed to Nairobi,” a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) statement said.

[caption id="attachment_704" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The smuggler's truck with the illegal ivory piled in the back."]The smuggler's truck carrying the illegal ivory.[/caption]

The ivory, valued at an estimated 59-60 million Kenyan shillings ($750,000), has been confiscated by KWS. The men, whose identities have not been released, are being held in custody. "Charges are being prepared to charge the suspects in a Kajiado court on Monday morning," the statement said.

[caption id="attachment_705" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="KWS rangers weigh the ivory, totalling 1,550 lbs."]KWS rangers weigh the ivory, totalling 1,550 lbs.[/caption]

It is unknown where the men obtained the ivory or where they were heading. DNA testing can reveal the origin of the ivory, which is believed to have come from nearly 50 elephants, mainly adult males.

According to some estimates, a kilogram of ivory can fetch as much as $35-$50 on the black market.

AWF provides the Amboseli-Tsavo Game Scouts Association with uniforms, equipment, training and office space. We applaud the successful ivory seizure made by the scouts, KWS and local authorities.

[caption id="attachment_703" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Noah Wekesa from the Ministry of Environment holds one of the massive tusks."]MP from the Ministry of Environment holds one of the massive tusks.[/caption]

Update from Reuters: The two men pleaded guilty on Monday to illegal possession of ivory.

"The haul represents unspeakable cost to our tourism industry as well as the ecosystems ... This is a major setback to efforts by Kenya to recover its elephant population after it dropped from 167,000 in 1963 to the current 33,000," a KWS statement said.

The two men will be sentenced on May 4.

Note: some media is saying the seizure weighed 512 kg but in fact, a later, more accurate measure puts the ivory load at 703 kg.

About the Author

Paul began with AWF based in Nairobi for a year, before moving to Washington DC. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is a member of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leadership initiative and is working on a conservation campaign to combat the illegal trade of Asian pangolins. Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and nyama choma.

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Close up photograph of elephant ivory pile
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