Two plead guilty to illegally possessing 700kg of ivory

Two men pleaded guilty in a Kenyan court on Monday to illegally possessing 700kg of elephant tusks in what was believed to be the largest seizure of illegal ivory in recent years, a Kenyan official said.

The two were charged with illegal possession of ivory and failure to report their ivory stock, said George Osuri, the senior warden of Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya, where the seizure was made. They face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $125.

Rangers and police arrested the two—a Kenyan and a Tanzanian—on Saturday when the Kenya Wildlife Service acted on a tip about planned ivory smuggling, Osuri said. Ivory is illegal if is not
from pre-1989 stockpiles or from an elephant shot by a ranger, for example for reasons of safety.

Officials stopped the two men in an SUV at a checkpoint in Mbirikani, about 50km from Tanzanian border, said Osuri.

When officials searched the car, they found 33 whole tusks and 57 pieces of tusk, he said.

“This is the biggest seizure in this area,” Osuri told The Associated Press. He said no seizure this large had been made in the park since the late 1970s or early 1980s—the peak period for the poaching that has reduced Kenya’s elephant population from 167&nbsp000 to about 27 000.

Osuri said the two men are members of a cartel the Wildlife Service has been monitoring since October.

He said the Wildlife Service was still investigating the origin of the ivory and its planned destination. He said much of the ivory seized looked old.

“The seizure will now bring to the limelight the magnitude of the poaching problem Kenya has been talking about all along,” Osuri said.

Elizabeth Wamba, a spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said that, based on the weight of the tusks seized, at least 70 elephants had been killed.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned the ivory trade in 1989.

“What is more worrying is that this seizure is just indicative of what could have already been smuggled or getting through Kenya for another destination. Normally, what happens is a lot goes
undetected,” said Wamba.—Sapa-AP

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