THE two large containers were supposed to hold nothing but tea leaves.
But the bags inside hid 3,700kg of raw ivory tusks, 22 teeth believed to be from African big cats, and four rhinoceros horns.
Acting on a tip-off, the Singapore authorities seized the entire illegal haul last week as it stopped off here en route from Kenya to Vietnam.
The animal parts were worth an estimated $8 million, Singapore Customs and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a joint statement yesterday. Investigations are ongoing.
The 1,783 whole and cut tusks in the haul were the second-largest seizure of ivory here since 2002.
In June that year, about 6,000kg of raw tusks and pieces were confiscated after they were found packed in six wooden crates labelled as "marble sculptures" bound for Japan.
The ivory was returned to Africa and a Singapore shipper was fined $5,000 - the maximum penalty at the time - for preparing documents to facilitate the shipment.
While last week's haul was en route to Vietnam, international wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic said the end market was likely China, where ivory is known as "white gold" and seen as a status-defining luxury product.
In 2013, National Geographic magazine said its survey of 600 Chinese people in the middle and upper middle class found that 84 per cent planned to buy ivory goods and 87 per cent associated ivory with "prestige".
Traffic South-east Asia's regional director, Mr Chris Shepherd, said the latest seizure was not only worrying for wild African elephants, which are in decline, but also for Singapore.
"It shows that smugglers still think they can use Singapore as a transit point," he said.
"The Singapore authorities should be congratulated for the latest seizure, but it does indicate that they need to be even more vigilant."
The AVA said it will continue to work with enforcement agencies here and internationally to curb wildlife trafficking.
"The illegal trade... is fuelled by increasing demand and poaching," said Ms Lye Fong Keng, deputy director of AVA's quarantine and inspection group in the wildlife section. "The public can help to reduce demand by not buying such products."
International trade in ivory, rhinoceros horns and the teeth of certain species of big cats is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Under Singapore law, offenders can be fined up to $50,000 for each illegal wildlife specimen up to a total maximum of $500,000, jailed for up to two years, or both. The same penalties apply to any trans-shipment of Cites specimens through Singapore without proper Cites permits from the exporting and importing countries.
Anyone with information on the illegal wildlife trade can contact the AVA on 6805-2992 or use the feedback form on its website at www.ava.gov.sg.
All information provided will be kept confidential.
This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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