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Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK

World: Africa

Kenya seizes large ivory stash

The illegal ivory trade has ravaged Africa's elephant population

The Kenyan authorities have announced the largest seizure of ivory in the country since 1989.

Officials of the Kenya Wildlife Service say that over 350kg of ivory were found in the town of Maralal 300km, north of the capital Nairobi.

[ image: The legal sale of ivory to Japan prompted criticism from Kenya]
The legal sale of ivory to Japan prompted criticism from Kenya
Forty-five pieces of ivory were found hidden at three different sites around Maralal. At one place maize had been planted to try to hide the tusks, which were all recent to fresh.

The ivory came from at least 23 elephants, of which about 10 were large elephant bulls. Some of the tusks had bullet holes through them.

The discovery of the haul comes amid fears that poaching in Kenya is once again on the increase. This was the largest seizure of ivory in a decade and there have been 35 confirmed incidents of poaching this year alone.

Officials of the Kenya Wildlife Service believe that the ivory was destined for neighbouring Somalia or Ethiopia. Ivory can currently fetch $15 to $35 a kilo.

Two Kenyans were arrested in a raid on the Samburu National Reserve, after many months of investigation by KWS security agents.

The two detained could face long jail sentences for being in illegal possession of ivory, but wildlife officials say that the ringleaders are still at large.

Wrong message

The incident came only months after the first legal sale of ivory in Africa since 1989, following a decision in February by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to allow an experimental trade in ivory from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.

Kenya and eight other elephant-range states strongly objected to the reopening of the trade, which they deemed premature. It involved a one-off sale to Japan on an experimental basis.

Kenya warned that the sale sent out the wrong message and might trigger increased poaching.

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