Swiss customs seize large ivory haul in transit to China

GENEVA - A large haul of ivory, worth more than US$400,000 (S$550,700) on the black market, was seized at Zurich airport last month on its way from Tanzania to China, Swiss authorities said Tuesday.

The 262 kilos (577 pounds) of ivory had been chopped up and stashed in eight suitcases, along with around a kilo of lion teeth and claws, Swiss customs authorities said in a statement.

The suitcases, registered to three Chinese citizens, were intercepted at Zurich airport on July 6 during a routine control of tourists arriving from Dar es Salaam, it said.

The stash of ivory was estimated to be worth around 400,000 Swiss francs (S$569,000) on the black market, the statement said.

"In light of the offences committed by the three men against customs law and species conservation efforts, they can expect to receive steep fines," it said.

The United Nations last week voted to work harder to combat the poaching of endangered species, and expressed concern over what it called a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and alarmingly high levels of killings of elephants in Africa.

There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said the NGO Elephants Without Borders.

China meanwhile accounts for 70 per cent of world demand for ivory, NGOs say. They say Chinese hunger for ivory is responsible for the death of 30,000 African elephants each year.

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