Image: Hong Kong Customs

On Tuesday July 4, officials in Hong Kong seized over 7.2 metric tons of ivory from a Malaysian cargo ship — the largest ivory seizure in history. 

The forty-foot vessel situated in the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound was found to contain mostly fresh fish cartons, but hidden underneath were 7.2 metric tons of ivory tusks.

Hong Kong authorities have declared their largest-ever ivory seizure, although the weight still needs to be verified by outside sources. A similarly large shipment of 7.138 metric tons was seized in Singapore in 2002.

“This seizure is tragic and represents violent and cruel deaths for possibly hundreds of elephants, all for their ivory tusks and all for an industry that should be in its death throes in the Hong Kong SAR of China,” Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director China for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), reported in a statement.

To put things into perspective, this amount of ivory equates to about 800 dead African elephants, which is a large proportion of their dwindling population. This amount of seized ivory is likely in correlation with organized crime.

Hong Kong is the hub for the retail ivory market, which includes ‘worked’ ivory that remains legal there. This market is easily infiltrated by criminals who introduce their newer, illegal products. Although China is making steps to end the domestic ivory trade by 2018, urgent action needs to be taken in light of this shocking situation.

Daniela Freyer, of the Pro Wildlife campaign group, stated to The Guardian the seizure was “an alarm call for the immediate shutdown of Hong Kong’s ivory markets once and for all.” She then added, “further delays of a ban on ivory would be deadly for Africa’s elephants.”

An investigation into the seizure has resulted in the arrest of the owner of a trading company and two female staff members. The investigation is still underway.

Image: Hong Kong Customs