NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan authorities have seized a container loaded with 87 elephant tusks and disguised as soapstone carvings destined for Hong Kong, a customs official said.
The 20-foot container was impounded at a depot in Nairobi. As it was being inspected for clearance for shipment, officials scanning its contents became suspicious.
"It was declared as assorted handicrafts destined for Hong Kong. Upon scanning, our customs officers discovered that the images were suspect and a decision was made to subject the container to a 100 percent verification," said Ezekiel Maru, communications and marketing officer at the Kenya Revenue.
"We found 11 wooden crates containing 25 pieces of elephant tusks and 15 cartons containing 61 pieces of tusks. The other cartons that had been used to camouflage had assorted soapstone and wood carvings. Some had tiles and other stuffings," he said, as other officers unpacked the container in the background.
Maru, speaking to reporters on Friday, said a total of 87 tusks were recovered. He did not say where the tusks came from or if any arrests had been made. Television footage showed one man holding a tusk taller than he was.
Poaching has declined significantly in Kenya from the 1980s and 1990s when gangs decimated its elephants and hunted its rhinos almost to extinction, the Kenya Wildlife Service says.
Ivory from African elephants is typically smuggled to Asia where it is carved into ornaments, while rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicines.
Kenya opposes any lifting of a nine-year ban on ivory sales agreed in 2007 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Authorities fear such a move would revive the market for ivory and lead to increased poaching.