Business, Economics and Jobs

Hong Kong seizes massive $3.4 million African ivory shipment

Authorities in Hong Kong seized a whopping four tons of illegal African ivory earlier this week, in a record-breaking seizure that can likely be attributed to surging demand for the stuff in Asia and the Middle East.

The BBC reports the stock of ivory, worth around $3.4 million, was seized in shipping containers and appears to have originated in Kenya and Tanzania.

Read more from GlobalPost: TIme to ban ivory for good?

CNN reports the shipment weighed in at over 8,000 pounds, comprising 1,209 tusks and three pounds of ivory ornaments.

"This is the biggest haul of ivory tusk in Hong Kong customs enforcement history in a single operation," said Lam Tak-fai, the head of Hong Kong's Ports and Maritime Command, to the BBC.

Read more from GlobalPost: Hong Kong: record seizure of illegal rhino horns, ivory

That's more than widely-publicized November 2011 ivory seizure in Hong Kong, weighing in at about 190 pounds of rhino horns, ivory chopsticks and jewelry, and estimated to be worth about $2.2 million.

What do people want with ivory circa-2012? It's often used for traditional medicines, especially in Asia, and it makes for a commanding home decoration for the upwardly mobile.

It has been illegal to shoot an elephant for ivory since 1989, but that hasn't stopped the trade: a loophole makes it OK to sell ivory that came from elephants killed before the ban went into action.

This sounds all well and good, but it's rather hard to prove ivory is pre-1989, providing a handy fallback for a lucrative trade.

And demand is booming: CNN reports that elephant poaching is on a serious upswing in Africa, largely due to escalating demand from the swiftly-growing Chinese middle class.