Saturday, May 7, 2011, 11:32 Habari kuu, The african BY GEOFFREY NANGAI AND AGENCIES VIETNAMESE customs authorities discovered nearly 600 kilograms of elephant tusks hidden in a shipping container of rubber from Tanzania, authorities said yesterday. Reports said the Vietnamese authorities made the haul on Thursday after receiving a tip. Smuggled elephant tusks were hidden in a very sophisticated way, Vu Hoang Duong, head of customs at the port of Hai Phong, told the German Press Agency dpa. They cut open tanks for holding rubber, filled them with elephant tusks and soldered them shut again. Duong said the container had been labeled for temporary import, and was already registered for re-export to China by a Vietnamese company in the neighboring province of Quang Ninh. The company however refused delivery of the container after the customs inspection, saying the contained goods were not what it had ordered. Efforts to get comment fro the Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige were not fruitful as his mobile number was not readily available by press time. But Senior Information Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, George Matiko when contacted by The African on Saturday for comment on the matter said authorities have on many occasions tended to pin-point without doing thorough research on the actual origin of the elephant tusks. I have not been in position to go through the report but the scenario is now coming to worst. Whenever there is a dubious elephant tusks dubious business, authorities pin-point at us without doing research. We do work with various conservationist groups worldwide but when we dig deep into the matter, we find that the reports are not actually true, he stressed. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, most elephant ivory smuggled into Vietnam is ultimately destined for China, but some is sold locally for $ 770 to 1,200 per kilogram. The biggest recent tusk haul in Vietnam was in March 2009 when customs agents in Hai Phong found more than six tons of elephant tusks in a container that was said to have been shipped from Tanzania. International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989 with the exception of occasional auctions from stockpiles. Earlier last year (March), Haiphong authorities seized seven tons of defences elephant said to have originated from Tanzania with the cargo becoming the most important decision-making defences illegally imported in Vietnam. International trade in ivory was prohibited since 1989 under the Convention on international trade in wild species of fauna and flora threatened with extinction (Cites), some ad hoc sales are permitted since 1997 in the Southern African countries. But according to experts, poaching has intensified in recent years, ivory being largely destined for Asian countries. China is indeed one of the largest consumers of ivory in the world, while Viet Nam suffers significant legislative gaps that encourage traffic. A DNA study from earlier seizures of Tanzanian ivory in Asia showed that a large part of the consignment of elephant tusks originated from the Selous Game Reserve where 40 per cent of the countrys jumbos are located. Reports further indicate that Tanzanias elephant populations have declined by more than 30,000 elephants between 2006 and 2009 primarily due to poaching. A surge in demand for ivory in Asia is fuelling an illicit trade in elephant tusks, especially from Africa. Over the past eight years, the price of ivory has gone up from about $100 per kilogram ($100 per 2.2 pounds) to $1,800, creating a lucrative black market Experts warn that if the trade is not stopped, elephant populations could dramatically plummet. The elephants could be nearly extinct by 2020, If we dont get the illegal trade under control soon, elephants could be wiped out over much of Africa, making recovery next to impossible, said Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. The impact that loss of this keystone species would have on African ecosystems is difficult to even imagine. He added. A global ban on the ivory trade in 1989 briefly halted their demise but the bans initial success has been undermined by a booming demand for ivory among Asian consumers, a decline in law enforcement budgets and a thriving black market that takes advantage of rampant corruption in many African countries. Conservationists say poaching has steadily worsened since 2004 and now leads to the loss of as many as 60,000 elephants each year.