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Record ivory seizures in 2011, a 'horrible year' for elephants

The past year saw a record number of large-scale elephant tusk seizures, with illegal ivory trade between Africa and Asia continuing to rise, according to Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring group.

Kenya ivory poaching 2011 07 21Enlarge
Five tonnes of illegal ivory - including 335 elephant tusks - were burned in Kenya to discourage poaching which is on the increase across the continent fuelled by growing demand from the Far East. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A record number of large ivory seizures took place in 2011, a "horrible year" for elephants, the wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic said.

There were at least 13 seizures of more than 800 kg of elephant tusks in 2011, compared to six large seizures in 2010, Traffic said on its website.

The weight of the 13 largest seizures this year would be equivalent to more than 23 tons of ivory, or some 2,500 elephants. 

"Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures," the group said. 

Traffic said that in the past five years, there has been a sharp increase in the illegal ivory trade.

More from GlobalPost: Kenya burns illegal ivory

Most of the ivory seized in 2011 was shipped from Kenya and Tanzania, to buyers in China and Thailand. Malaysia was used as a transit country in six of the large seizures.

Smugglers appear to have shifted away from air to sea freight, the group noted. In early 2011, three of the large-scale ivory seizures were at airports, but later in the year most were discovered in sea freight.

Just last week, 727 pieces of ivory were discovered at the port in Mombasa, Kenya, hidden in a container destined for Asia. 

“In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS [ivory trade database], this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures — 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant expert.

“The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking," he said.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: rhino poaching at record high

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/111229/elephant-poaching-ivory-seizures-record-traffic