By Yassin Juma
NAIROBI – Kenyan authorities in capital Nairobi on Thursday impounded 131 pieces of ivory worth a total of some $40 million and arrested two suspected ivory smugglers.
"The ivory was hidden in a water tanker lorry that was parked at a petrol station on Langata Road," Paul Mbugua, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), told Anadolu Agency. "The lorry looked like it had broken down."
The authorities made the find less than 5km from KWS headquarters in Langata, southwest of Nairobi.
Acting on a tipoff, the Police Special Crimes Prevention Unit and KWS officers arrested two suspects – a Kenyan and a Guinean national.
Mbugua said the detained Kenyan was already involved in a court case related to the illegal ivory trade.
A surging demand for raw ivory from rapidly growing Asian economies has resulted in the slaughter of thousands of rare and endangered species – often from well protected game parks.
Kenya is also used as a transit hub for raw ivory originating from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana, much of which is destined for markets in China.
Last month, a number of conservationists led by world-renowned Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey appealed to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare ongoing elephant and rhino poaching in the country a "national disaster."
Conservationists warn that if poaching continues at the current rate, Kenya – whose economy largely depends on tourism – would risk the extinction of the two animals.
Kenya is well known for hosting the "big five," boasting relatively large populations of elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffaloes.
According to KWS figures, Kenya lost a total of 16 rhinos – 13 of which were killed by poachers – this year alone.
Last year, the country lost 59 rhinos out of a total population of some 1000.
And by March of this year, some 30 elephants had been poached, while 302 were lost the previous year.
The KWS estimates that roughly 38,000 elephants still remain in the country.