UK & World News
Major Surge In Ivory Smuggling In China
Authorities in Hong Kong have seized more than a tonne of ivory worth $1.4m (£870,000).
According to the city's customs department, the 779 separate tusks represent their third biggest seizure in just three months.
The haul was discovered very well hidden inside a shipping container which had arrived at Hong Kong's port from Kenya via Malaysia.
The ivory was only discovered after officials X-rayed the container which had been declared as carrying archaeological stones.
Hidden underneath rocks and inside five wooden crates were 40 bags containing the ivory.
Speaking at a news conference in Hong Kong, the Group Head of Ports and Maritime Command, Wong Sui-hang, said: "Hong Kong is an important seaport and a dynamic logistic hub.
"Smugglers might think that they can make use of this to smuggle goods into Hong Kong. But Hong Kong Customs will use a multi-prong approach to give the smugglers detection in the smuggling cases."
On October 20, the same customs department discovered nearly four tonnes in two shipments worth $3.4m. It represented the city's biggest single seizure.
The following month, the authorities found a shipment roughly the same size as this latest seizure.
On the Asian market, ivory is an highly sought-after commodity. It is not only used in jewellery but more commonly to make ornamental items especially for the Thai and Chinese markets.
China's increasing dominance in Africa has, according to environmental groups, made the problem much worse.
"The trade in ivory across Africa is deeply linked to armed militias, the Janjaweed, the Lord's Resistance Army, but also with people who are buying and commissioning ivory from Asia, from China and Japan.
"We are very concerned about the fact that this is becoming a very valuable commodity," Robbie Marsland, the UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) told Sky News.
"China and Japan are two key markets leading to more and more deaths of more elephants and remember that elephants are a social animal and there are evidence that the poachers will kill one animal, wait for the elephants to come and investigate and possibly mourn the death of that animal and then kill the ones that come and investigate," he said.
In 2011, a Sky News investigation revealed how China is driving demand for smuggled ivory from Africa, leading to a surge in the slaughter of endangered elephants.
An undercover Sky News team arranged a meeting with a man in Beijing who revealed his family runs an international ivory trafficking operation.
He showed off three pairs of recently arrived tusks with a price tag of £40,000 and explained that his uncle works in West Africa.
Worryingly, he suggested that smuggling through sea ports was only one method of getting the ivory into China. His operation involves using contacts to smuggle the tusks into China through airports in their luggage.
Asked if he could supply more, he replied: "Don't worry about that. If we can do a deal today, then next time I have some good ivory I'll call you."
A worldwide ban on the sale of ivory is in place, but environmental groups say there has been a surge in the slaughter of elephants in Africa.
Last summer, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said that elephant poaching levels were the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989.
"We need to enhance our collective efforts ... to reverse the current disturbing trends. Enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must not just result in seizures - they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband. The whole 'enforcement chain' must work together."
The Hong Kong authorities have not yet arrested anyone as a result of this latest seizure.