By Sophie Regan
In the early hours of yesterday morning, 15 Vietnamese nationals were detained by airport customs in Hong Kong after a routine inspection uncovered that the passengers were carrying 790 kilograms of ivory in their 32 suitcases. The massive amount said to be worth 7.9 million HKD (1 million USD), according to SCMP.
The suitcases, when opened, expelled a strong smell and were apparently still covered in large amounts of dried blood. They contained both raw and semi-finished products such as bangles and prayer beads. Tom Milliken from Traffic, a wildlife trade network, believes this indicates the ivory was heading to China "because [...] the name seals… are not commonly found on the Thai market".
The men and women, aged 20 to 50 had flown from Angola, which "makes sense [as the source] because it is one of the largest-worked ivory markets in Africa," Milliken explained. The group were said to be "surprised" at being arrested. None of the members spoke English, Cantonese or Putonghua and had flown from Angola to Hong Kong via Ethiopia in an attempt to avoid detection.
Ng King-hong, head of Customs and Excise airport command, took the matter a bit more personally. He said "Hong Kong Customs has stepped up its enforcement of all contraband, including ivory" and felt that this case tried to take advantage of the "advanced aviation network".
With more ivory consumption hotspots arising, Wild Aid executive director Peter Knights thinks the crackdown is "much-needed" if the levels of ivory smuggling is to be reduced, before acknowledging the efforts "would be greatly facilitated by a total sales ban on ivory".
In May, Hong Kong began its incineration of around 28 tons of elephant tusks and ivory-made jewelry in what's been called the largest display of such a dissolve against the illegal wildlife trade in the city yet.
A massive public destruction of ivory was also held in January in mainland China, where illegal ivory trade continues to be a huge issue.