Record haul of smuggled ivory seized in Kenya

More than $1 million worth of ivory was uncovered by Kenyan police in a container marked claiming to contain decorative stones.

MOMBASA, Kenya – Police in Kenya have seized two metric tons of ivory worth $1.15 million, the biggest haul on record in the east African country, officials said Tuesday.

"This is a big catch, the biggest ever single seizure of ivory at the port of Mombasa," said Kiberenge Seroney, the port's police officer in charge of criminal investigations.

"We fail to understand where one gathers the courage to park such enormous quantities of ivory, hoping that they can slip through our security systems," he added.

Poaching is a growing problem for sub-Saharan African countries reliant on rich wildlife in their game reserves to draw foreign tourists.

Heavily-armed criminals kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks, which are used for ornaments and in some folk medicines, particularly in China. Most of the elephant tusks smuggled from Africa ends up in Asian countries, according to police.

On Jan. 5, poachers killed a family of 11 elephants in the biggest single mass shooting of the animals on record in Kenya, wildlife officials said.

Gitau Gitau, an assistant commissioner with the Kenya Revenue Authority, said paperwork accompanying a container at the port of Mombasa declared it contained decorative stones.

"But when we opened it we found elephant tusks," said Gitau as he displayed the ivory. "The ivory was originating from Rwanda and Tanzania and was to be exported to Indonesia."

Additional reporting by James Macharia