Huge tusks and skins haul destined for Hong Kong?

HK$41million worth of tusks and skins from endangered species found by customs – and this time the illegal cargo arrived from the mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 3:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 August, 2013, 3:14pm

A rare haul of five leopard skins were among another illegal stash from slaughtered endangered species discovered in Hong Kong. It also included rhino horns and more than 1,000 ivory tusks and is estimated to be worth HK$41 million in total.

It is the fourth shipment of ivory stopped in Hong Kong this year, but this time questions have been raised about the final destination. In the previous cases, customs officers have said the illicit cargoes were destined for the mainland. This time the cargo was shipped from the mainland to Hong Kong.

The body parts, in wooden crates inside two containers, were offloaded in Shanghai after arriving from Nigeria, West Africa. The containers were then picked up by another ship which brought them to Hong Kong. After a tip-off from their mainland counterparts, custom officers seized the cargo on Tuesday.

They found 1,120 polished ivory tusks, worth HK$8,000 a kilogram; 13 black and white Rhino horns, worth HK$200,000 a kilogram; and the five leopard skins, believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It comes less than three weeks after customs uncovered another massive haul of 1,148 tusks in a shipment from West Africa.

"Hong Kong is a very busy shipping port and smugglers might think there is a good chance of smuggling in contraband," said Vincent Wong Sui-hang, group head of customs port control. "But we have the capability and are determined to smash the smuggling rings."

However, Wong said the length of time it would take to check every container coming from Africa in future would jeopardise Hong Kong's standing as the third-busiest container port in the world.

"We do not have the capacity to check every [container]," Wong said. "If we process each and every container, we won't be ranked the No 3 port in the world."

Customs intelligence commander Jesse Wong Tai-chiu said it was better to seize the goods immediately rather than trying to track them to a final destination.

"Hong Kong customs is determined … to detect any smuggling cases, and we are determined to combat international crimes," he added.

There have been no arrests yet related to the seizures made on Tuesday or last month.

Richard Thomas, a spokesman for Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said the destination of the haul raised questions and highlighted the urgency of finding out who was behind these shipments.

"Forensic evidence could confirm the likelihood that the two products originate from very different regions of Africa and implies a high degree of organisation and sophistication in their operations," Thomas said.