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1.286 metric tons of ivory found in shipping containers

Ivory was on way to Malaysia, official says

Big demand for ivory comes from China

CNN  — 

South Sudanese authorities have seized more than a ton of smuggled ivory in crates at the Juba International Airport.

Elephant tusks and ivory pieces wrapped in sponge, weighing 2,829 pounds, were found Wednesday in 25 crates off of a flight from Entebbe, Uganda.

The Ethiopian Airlines shipment was scheduled to go on to Cairo via EgyptAir and then on to Malaysia, said Khamis Adieng, spokesperson for the National Wildlife Service within South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife:

“We used to see ivory from time to time, but nothing like this one,” said Adieng on Friday. “We used to see two or three pieces in hand luggage.”

Two people have been arrested in connection to the crime, he said. The ministry is now talking with the Ugandan and Ethiopian governments to help with the investigation, he said.

An average African elephant tusk weighs about 50 pounds each, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, indicating the Juba haul came from about 26 elephants.

Africa is struggling with an epidemic of illegal ivory poaching. Hunters kill tens of thousands of wild elephants every year for their tusks.

Activists warn that at the current rate of killing, the wild African elephant could be extinct within a generation.

Much of the demand is coming from mainland China, where ivory is still seen by some consumers as a luxury item that connotes wealth.

In recent years however, Chinese authorities have cracked down on the trade, alongside a high-profile publicity campaign encouraging people not to buy wildlife goods.

In January, the leader of Hong Kong said the city, long a major bastion of the ivory trade, would phase out the sale of ivory.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said in January that the government will “take steps to ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong,” adding that it would “impose heavier penalties on smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species.”

In April, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to a $172 million in illegal elephant ivory tusks and rhino horns in a bonfire that brought together heads of state to Nairobi National Park to make a statement against the poaching and smuggling.

Kenya Wildlife Services rangers stand guard around illegal stockpiles of burning elephant tusks, ivory figurines and rhinoceros horns at the Nairobi National Park April 30.

“The rising value of elephant ivory trade, illegally on the international market, has resulted in a massacre in the rainforest of Africa,” Kenyatta told the crowd. “In 10 years in central Africa we have lost as many as 70% of the elephants.”

CNN’s Brianna Duggan contributed to this report.