Kenyan wildlife officials say a large shipment of illegal ivory seized in China last week passed through the East African country undetected. The officials are worried the shipment could indicate the renewal of an aggressive trade in illegal ivory.
Kenya Wildlife Service officials are calling on their government to allow specially trained staff members to open suspicious shipments at airports.
The service says Kenyan customs officers missed a shipment of more than three metric tons of ivory seized by Shanghai customs last week in China.
The wildlife officials say although the ivory did not originate in Kenya, it probably was shipped through the country. The contraband was hidden in a six-meter container that was listed as containing wooden boards from Kenya.
Shanghai customs officials became suspicious when the container weight did not match the declared wood content. Inside, they discovered 64 packages of smuggled ivory, including 303 whole tusks and 408 tusks that had been chopped into smaller pieces.
In all, more than 16 tons of African ivory have been seized this year, a dramatic increase from last year's figures.
The Geneva-based Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES, placed a ban on ivory trade in 1989. Kenya's Wildlife Service officers believe ivory sales are increasing because traders are already anticipating that ivory trading may be made legal later this year.
In November, delegates at the Conference on International Trade of Endangered Species are expected to debate allowing limited trade in ivory. But the director of Kenya's Wildlife Service, Joseph Kioko, says such sales will only lead to more poaching and illegal trade.
"Two-years ago, we had sort of the same upsurge, so that is the reason every time CITES is around the corner, there is a lot of activity in poaching," Mr. Kioko said.
Kenya's elephant population is estimated to be about 27,000. Thirty years ago, wildlife officials say, there were 160,000 elephants in Kenya.