Thai officials seize over 700 pounds of African ivory


Thai Customs officials and police seized 422 elephant tusks weighing over 727 pounds that were being smuggled from Malawi through Bangkok International Airport last week and arrested a Gambian national in the latest victory in Thailand’s battle against smugglers of ivory and endangered species.

The tusks, which had been cut up, were hidden in a shipment labeled as unprocessed gemstones. Thai Customs agents zeroed in on the shipment, flagging it as suspicious because its port of origin was Lilongwe Airport in the southern African nation of Malawi.  That airport has a reputation for being used by smugglers for moving out tusks, ivory and other banned wildlife from neighboring Mozambique.

The survival of African elephants is under serious threat from poachers and consumers of ivory. Those consumers are mainly in Asia. “Their ivory tusks are the most sought after, but their meat and skin are also traded,’’ the World Wildlife Fund says on its website. “Tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their tusks. The ivory is often carved into ornaments and jewelry – China is the biggest consumer market for such products.”

The number of wild elephants in Africa has been estimated at about 400,000, down from approximately 3.5 million about a century ago. Conservationists have warned that at the rate elephants are being killed for their tusks, they could become extinct in a matter of decades. Loss of habitat from human settlement expansion is also playing a part in their potential demise.

Thailand was once a haven for ivory and wildlife smugglers, according to Freeland, a nongovernmental organization that fights wildlife crime and trafficking, but in recent years, the organization has said, the Kingdom has stepped up enforcement and cracked down hard on traffickers.

In 2015, Thai Customs officials made two seizures of tusks from Africa that totaled nearly eight tons. Late last year, Thai law enforcement arrested a Thai national it said was a key player in a major smuggling operation of tortoises and other endangered species from South Asia to Southeast Asia.

One month ago, Thai Customs agents made the largest seizure of smuggled pangolins in the country’s history, confiscating 6,613 pounds of pangolin scales at the airport, flown from Zaire in Africa and destined for Thailand’s neighboring country.

Thailand works closely with the United States in ASEAN-WEN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network, using tools, training and techniques from U.S. counterparts to sharpen and strengthen the efforts of local agents battling wildlife trafficking.

Photo Courtesy of