Photograph by Lam Yik Fei, Getty Images
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Ivory tusks seized by Hong Kong customs officials are displayed during a press conference in August. On Thursday, customs officers confiscated 216 pounds of ivory.

Photograph by Lam Yik Fei, Getty Images

Ivory and Hornbill Smuggling Attempt Foiled

In this week’s crime blotter: hornbills and ivory, a tortoise-smuggling scheme, and 22 live snakes.

Hong Kong customs officers found quite a trove of products from threatened species on Thursday after they stopped and searched a car at an immigration control point bordering mainland China.

They found what’s believed to be 216 pounds (98 kilograms) of ivory, 15 pounds (seven kilograms) of hornbill beak, and two pounds (one kilogram) of agarwood in a vehicle as the driver attempted to leave Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reports. In total, the haul could sell for more than $129,000 (one million Hong Kong dollars) on the black market, the report says.

Hong Kong plays a leading role in the ivory black market as a transit point for ivory smuggled from Africa to Asia. As for the helmeted hornbill beaks, China is the main market for the casque, the wedge of keratin above the actual beak. The casque is carved into decorative products and jewelry, and can bring in more money per gram than elephant ivory.

Then there’s agarwood, an aromatic wood that forms within some Aquilaria trees. It’s traded for use in perfume and traditional medicine, and is considered vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the organization that sets the conservation status of species.

Police nabbed a man in connection with the attempted export. He was arrested “on suspicion of breaching the Import and Export Ordinance and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and confiscations around the world announced this past week:

SACKS-FULL OF TORTOISES: Authorities impounded 52 tortoises found in Mbala, an eastern district in Uganda, and arrested the alleged smugglers, All Africa reports. The suspects didn’t have documentation to transport the reptiles, which were found concealed in sacks in a car. Officials think the tortoises were bound for export or for the black market in Kampala, in central Uganda.

SKIN AND BONE: Police nabbed four people in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India, for illegally possessing a 12-foot-long tiger skin and 50 pounds (25 kilograms) of tiger bones, according to the Sakshi Post, a daily newspaper in India. It’s the sixth tiger skin seized in the state in the past two months, the publication notes. Tiger bones are used in traditional medicine.

SNAKE SCAM: Police in southwest China confiscated 22 live snakes, 10 animal pelts, and feathers from two men suspected of wildlife trading, the South China Morning Post reports. Authorities tracked down the accused’s vehicles and found four cobras. They also uncovered 18 rat snakes, leopard skins, the feathers of a Lady Amherst's pheasant, and a Siberian weasel at the duo’s homes. The snakes have been turned over to a rescue center.

NOT-SO-CRAFTY CARGO: Hong Kong customs arrested a man who allegedly smuggled five pieces of suspected rhino horn worth two million dollars, the Hong Kong government announced. X-ray imaging showed the contraband hidden in cargo labeled “resin crafts.” It’s illegal to import an endangered species without a license.

TIMBER LOOTING: Police busted five people accused of illegal logging in Mount Pleasant, a landlocked province in the Philippines, says the Standard. The timber was worth $20,700 (P380,000), and two chain saws were also found at the site.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to