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Kenya finds Illegal ivory in boxes disguised as diplomatic baggage

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The ivory is seized at Nairobi, Kenya's international airport
  • It was packed in boxes disguised as diplomatic baggage
  • Sniffer dogs are increasingly used to combat poaching

(CNN) -- The war against the illegal ivory trade resulted in the seizure of 115 pieces of elephant ivory at the airport in Nairobi, the Kenya Wildlife Service said Friday.

The ivory was packed in 14 metal boxes disguised as diplomatic baggage at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the agency said. It was destined for West Africa and was purported to be from two non-existent embassies in Nairobi.

International trade in ivory was banned in 1989, but seizures have risen dramatically in the past five years, the government said, with many illegal exports going to Asia.

Several agencies made Thursday night's bust of the contraband brought to the airport by unidentified people, the Wildlife Service said in a written statement. The boxes were bound for Lagos, Nigeria. The ivory weighed 1,304 kilograms (2,875 pounds).

According to the agency, 187 Kenyan elephants were illegally killed in 2010. The 2011 number stands at 80 through April.

The Wildlife Service noted that 2,033 kilograms of ivory that had been shipped through Mombasa, Kenya, was seized in Thailand on March 30, but it was not known if the 247 elephant tusks had been poached in Kenya.

The Kenya Wildlife Service said it is strengthening ties with other law agencies and plans to introduce sniffer dogs at the port in Mombasa to crack down on illegal shipments.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates there were as many as 3 million to 5 million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s, but that number has plummeted. In Kenya, the population dropped by 85% between 1973 and 1989 alone.

In 1979, Africa was home to some 1.3 million elephants; by 1989 only 600,000 remained, a drop blamed almost wholly on the killing of elephants for ivory, the Wildlife Service has said. There are currently about 400,000 elephants in the continent, it said.

The nation also is seeing a spike in the trafficking of rhinoceros horns. Elephant tusks and rhino horns were seized at the Nairobi airport last summer, and other seizures have been made in recent years.

Conservation groups estimate there are only 18,000 rhinos in Africa today, down from 65,000 in the late 1970s.