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Kenyan port seizes 638 illegal elephant tusks


Elephants at the Amboseli game reserve, south of Kenyan capital Nairobi on Dec. 30, 2012.


Tony Karumba

Kenyan customs officials seized 638 pieces of elephant ivory on Tuesday — a shipment that's believed to be worth a remarkable $1.2 million.

The ivory, which was headed for the Indonesian market, was likely from Tanzania according to experts, writes the Associated Press.

Read more from GlobalPost: Elephant family slaughtered in Kenya

Smugglers had attempted to disguise the ivory shipment as "decorative stones," writes the BBC, and likely came from 250 different animals.

2012 was a bloody year for African elephants and rhinos, as poaching for ivory only intensified, despite increasingly desperate attempts to protect the animals.

The Kenya Wildlife Service reported that they had lost 384 elephants and 19 rhinos in 2012 alone, and had arrested 1,949 poaching suspects.

That's a considerable jump from 2011, when 289 elephants were killed (although more rhinos were affected that year, with 29 deaths).

It's estimated that 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2011, the worst year since numbers began being taken down in 2002, wrote the New York Times.

The seizure news comes only days after 11 elephants, living in a family group, were killed for their ivory in Kenya — the single worst mass elephant shooting in Kenyan history.

It's suspected that increased demand for ivory items from booming Asian economies is behind much of the new stress on Africa's most charismatic wildlife.

Read more from GlobalPost: (PHOTOS) Elephant poaching in Africa

"Leading animal protection experts are increasingly comparing the current situation to that in the 1970s and 80s before the world ban on the ivory trade was put in place when Africa's elephants were pushed to the brink of survival," GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in Kenya Tristan McConnell said of the deaths.

Late last year, South Africa reported that it had acquired a mobile drone to watch out for rhino poachers in protected areas — perhaps presenting the next frontier in preserving Africa's wildlife.