NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan authorities have intercepted more than 2 tonnes of elephant tusks and rhino horns disguised as fruit destined for export to Malaysia.
Most of the tusks seemed to have been collected from natural deaths of about 150 elephants and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said it was yet to determine their origin.
“The cargo, which was falsely declared as containing only fresh avocado fruits, was packed in 12 wooden boxes, which raised a red flag due to its mode of package, weight and destination,” KWS said in a statement on Monday.
Inside, it found 317 elephant tusks and five rhino horns.
This year alone, authorities have intercepted wildlife contraband in Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong, KWS said.
“In the recent times, cases of illegal trafficking of wildlife products through Kenya’s ports to the Middle and Far East destinations has been a matter of concern,” KWS said.
KWS said rhino and elephant poaching was on the increase.
Elephant poaching more than doubled to 204 illegal killings in 2009 from 94 in the previous year and 47 in 2007, according to KWS figures. Rhino killings nearly tripled to 13 deaths in 2009 from five in the previous year.
Kenya loses about 200-300 elephants to natural causes annually.
The east African safari destination has been opposed to the lifting of a 9-year ban against ivory sales agreed in 2007 under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species.
Some African countries with growing elephant populations want the trade to resume but Kenya maintains it would threaten its 38,000-strong elephant population.
East Africa is still recovering from extensive poaching in the 1960s and 1970s before the global ban. In 1989, poaching had reduced populations to about 17,000 elephants.