Customs officials in Xiamen have smashed a transcontinental smuggling ring responsible for illegally importing almost 12 tons of ivory worth 603 million yuan (HK$767 million), Xinhua reports.
The details of a long-term investigation into two criminal gangs were announced yesterday by Xiamen Customs, who named two “black bosses” as masterminds.
The first, a Fujian native man surnamed Chen, co-ordinated a smuggling ring between China and Africa in order to meet increasing demand beyond the fixed annual import limit set for his licensed ivory shop.
Chen’s group has been known to Xiamen customs since 2011. In August this year, several members were arrested and almost 2,000 kilograms of ivory were seized. Xiamen customs now attribute several loads to the gang, including four loads in 2011 hidden in shipments of sand, cashew nut, metal and leather.
Chen’s gang also smuggled shipments through Hong Kong, where several illegal loads have been seized in recent months. In early October close to 800 kilograms was seized, having originated from the Ivory Coast.
The deputy inspector of the Xiamen Customs Anti-smuggling Bureau, Hu Yonggang, named Mr Liu as the second mastermind currently investigated by the department. Liu’s gang was said to be responsible for a 4.2 ton haul seized late last year.
Ivory is seen as a symbol of wealth and status in China, and has become increasingly popular in recent years with the growth of the wealthy middle class.
Three Chinese nationals were arrested in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Tuesday after nearly 800 tusks were found hidden in bags of garlic at their homes.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reaffirmed China’s commitment to working with the international community to protect wildlife in a press conference that day.
A recent survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 70 per cent of Chinese are unaware that elephants are killed for ivory products. The survey found that many thought that elephants lose tusks as humans lose teeth.
Also on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama announced that six tons of illegal ivory would be destroyed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama said they wanted to send a message of “zero tolerance”, the New York Times reported.
The United States is the world’s second largest consumer of ivory products, behind China.